Q&A with Arizona’s top health official on dashboards, in-person learning

Aug 21, 2020, 1:04 PM
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)...
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)

PHOENIX — Arizona’s top health official said Friday the lag time in data for the state’s schools and businesses dashboards helps ensure accurate information and discussed in-person learning, which resumed in select districts this week.

Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, told KTAR 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show that not all labs immediately report data.

Queen Creek Unified School District began in-person learning this week, while J.O. Combs Unified School District’s governing board voted 4-1 Wednesday to revert to the virtual-only instruction after all classes were canceled Monday through Wednesday because a high volume of staff had called out.

As of Thursday, when the state’s data dashboard showing the status of COVID-19 spread was last updated, Maricopa County met two benchmarks for the reopening range.

Here is a sampling of questions and answers from Christ’s interview:

The 12-day lag time on the dashboards tells us where we were and not where we are in waiting an additional 12 days, possibly for businesses. Do you understand the frustration of saying we’re going to find out in 12 days?

Christ: We completely understand the frustration for our businesses and our schools. And we’re doing everything we can to keep our public safe and give them as much certainty as we can that when we are open, we are in the clear to open. So the 12-day lag allows our data to be complete. It allows it to be accurate and it allows us to also see where we’re heading. And so that’s what we wanted to provide our businesses and schools with when we created the dashboard.

Is there a way to do that faster than a 12-day lag time?

Christ: You know, if you watch our daily dashboard, you’ll see that this week and last week percent positivity changes on a daily basis because we’re continuously getting labs and updating it the week before. That is when it finally stabilizes and stays the same. So it’s very difficult with as much data as we’re getting in and as we’re continuously evaluating it to move it closer.

We’re seeing a lot of schools that are not opening, but many of them are trying to in the East Valley and seem to be doing a good job of opening. Is there a bit of conflict in leadership among educators on how to reopen?

Christ: So again, it’s going to depend on what those mitigation measures are. You know, we put the benchmarks that we felt would keep school safe and could be monitored from a county level. Individual schools are going to be enforcing masks. They’re going to be enforcing physical distancing. So it’s really going to depend.

Why aren’t the districts giving that option to those families that want it like they are out in Queen Creek and like they are out in even others?

Christ: That was a decision that we left to the local school districts. So the governing authorities were going make the decisions that they feel are in the best interest of their families. But I completely understand the frustration of parents. I know that one of my kids last night was like, ‘I just want to go back to in-person school and see my friends.’ And so it is hard when you’re a parent, and I completely understand the frustration.

What information do we have regarding how the virus spreads in children? There was a report that seemed to conflict with things we’ve been hearing and a report that said it’s possible that kids and young people are contagious or spreading this at a higher rate than we had expected we had thought before.

Christ: You know, I think that there’s always new information coming out out about this disease. This is a brand new communicable disease that we’re learning new things about every day, and I think one of the difficulties is kids tend to be asymptomatic, so we may not know when kids have them. We do know that kids have come down with COVID and so, you know, still taking those measures of having them wear masks, staying home when they’re sick and making sure that they are physically distancing from their their peers and other people is going to help prevent the spread. And as we learn more, we will be updating our recommendations and our guidance.

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Q&A with Arizona’s top health official on dashboards, in-person learning