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Arizona’s top health official: Data on kids and COVID-19 remains unclear

PHOENIX — Arizona’s top health official said Thursday there are still many unknowns regarding how the coronavirus interacts with school-aged children.

“There’s still a lot that we’re trying to learn about the virus,” Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said during a press conference.

“Kids appear at this time to not transmit the virus as effectively as adults, however, as we learn more, that is something that we could find out more about.”

Christ’s remarks came after administrators in two southeast Valley public districts — Queen Creek Unified and J.O. Combs Unified – and the 12-campus American Leadership Academy charter school system decided earlier this week to begin offering on-campus learning Monday despite falling short of public health benchmarks.

Last week, AZDHS released county-specific benchmark recommendations for schools to resume in-person education: a positive rate of 7% or less for two consecutive weeks, case rates less than 100 per 100,000 people or see a two-week decline in number of cases and less than 10% of total hospital visits being due to COVID-like illnesses.

At the time those decisions were announced, Maricopa County – home to Queen Creek Unified and most of the American Leadership Academy schools – and Pinal County – home to J.O. Combs Unified had each reached just one of the benchmarks, although a second was in reach.

Earlier on Thursday, AZDHS announced Maricopa County had met benchmarks regarding a two-week decline in cases and hospital visits, though had failed to meet the positivity rate recommendation with a figure of 11.8%.

Pinal County had also achieved the same two benchmarks on Thursday.

“We’re supportive of the districts,” Gov. Doug Ducey said during the press conference on Thursday — the first time he had faced the local media since the benchmarks were released.

Ducey and Christ’s remarks contrast those made by Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, who said Wednesday schools ought to adhere to the recommendations, though districts have the final say in the matter.

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