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Maricopa County hits school COVID-19 benchmarks for return to classroom

(AP Photo)

PHOENIX – Maricopa County has met all three coronavirus benchmarks recommended for safely starting in-person learning, Arizona health officials reported Thursday.

The state’s most populous county met the benchmarks for a second consecutive week, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services dashboard.

The state health agency recommends the benchmarks be at moderate or minimal community spread levels for at least two weeks to allow hybrid learning, which is a combination of in-class and online instruction.

The county achieved a decline in cases, hospital visits and positivity rate.

Nine other counties met all three benchmarks, including Pima, the second-most populated region in the state.

Dashboard data came from the week starting Aug. 16 and doesn’t count the past 12 days because of potential lags in information.

Mesa Public Schools, the largest in the state, announced it would begin modified in-person learning Sept. 14 once all the benchmarks were reached.

Students would alternate days when they attend classes in person and online.

Other districts have already welcomed children back to campus. Queen Creek Unified School District began in-person learning the week of Aug. 17.

J.O. Combs Unified School District in San Tan Valley planned to begin in-class learning that week, but had to cancel after too many staffers said they wouldn’t be there.

The metrics are guidelines, not requirements, and were produced in a joint effort between state health and education leaders.

The dashboard went online three weeks ago and will be updated every Thursday.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman tweeted shortly after the latest dashboard data was released, “I urge every member of Arizona’s school communities to proceed with caution.”

Hoffman also said meeting the benchmarks showed the mitigation strategies were working and that schools should keep providing learning options for students, families, educators and staff who are uneasy about going back on campus.

Schools shut down in-person learning March 16 because of the coronavirus.

Each of the 15 counties met at least one metric.

Here’s a county-by-county breakdown in how they fared meeting the benchmarks:

Apache – Hits 3 of 3 benchmarks

Cochise – Hits 3 of 3 benchmarks

Coconino – Hits 3 of 3 benchmarks

Gila – Hits 1 of 3 benchmarks

Graham – Hits 1 of 3 benchmarks

Greenlee – Hits 3 of 3 benchmarks

La Paz – Hits 3 of 3 benchmarks

Maricopa – Hits 3 of 3 benchmarks

Mohave – Hits 2 of 3 benchmarks

Navajo – Hits 3 of 3 benchmarks

Pima – Hits 3 of 3 benchmarks

Pinal – Hits 3 of 3 benchmarks

Santa Cruz – Hits 2 of 3 benchmarks

Yavapai – Hits 3 of 3 benchmarks

Yuma – Hits 2 of 3 benchmarks

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Griselda Zetino contributed to this report.

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