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Arizona COVID-19 metrics rise again, but dashboard stages don’t change

(Sarah Gonser/The Hechinger Report via AP)

PHOENIX — COVID-19 metrics remain on the rise in multiple Arizona counties, but they haven’t affected the classifications in the state’s school and business dashboards.

As has been the case in recent weeks, 14 of Arizona’s counties were in the hybrid threshold for schools and the moderate spread stage for businesses.

Greenlee County was the lone outlier, remaining in the traditional learning recommendation for schools and minimal spread stage for businesses.

The dashboards, which reflect requirements for businesses and recommendations for schools, are updated every Thursday. The newest data is at least 12 days old to account for lags in reporting, ensuring that assessments are based on accurate statistics. The latest update covers the weeks starting Oct. 4 and Oct. 11 (through Oct. 17).

Each dashboard is based on levels set by the Arizona Department of Health Services in three metrics: confirmed COVID-19 cases, percent positivity of diagnostic testing and percentage of hospital visits for COVID-like illnesses. There are slight differences in the benchmark levels for each dashboard.

Maricopa County saw rises in all three metrics in Thursday’s update. Pima and Coconino counties also saw increases in metrics.

All three benchmarks had to be reached for at least two consecutive weeks for counties to have entered the two opening ranges, moderate or minimal. Counties won’t have their official statuses downgraded unless they fall into the substantial range for all three metrics.

For schools, the health department recommends a hybrid learning model – a blend of virtual and on-campus instruction – for areas in the moderate range and says it’s safe to resume traditional classes in the minimal stage.

The school dashboard was designed to provide guidance, but districts have the final say in the type of instruction they offer.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said Wednesday that more guidance was coming from AZDHS for schools that need to return to distance-only learning.

Revisions were made recently to potentially allow schools to remain open longer if recommended benchmarks weren’t met.

The business benchmarks are state requirements that had to be met before indoor gyms, bars operating as restaurants, theaters, water parks and tubing venues — which had been closed June 29 under executive order — were permitted to reopen.

The businesses covered under the executive order had to agree to adhere to capacity restrictions and COVID-19 safety protocols that vary by industry before resuming operations.

Indoor gyms and fitness centers are permitted to operate at 25% of capacity in the moderate range and 50% of capacity in the minimal range.

Bars and nightclubs that offer dine-in restaurant service can operate at 50% of capacity in both the moderate and minimal ranges.

Indoor theaters are limited to 50% capacity in both the moderate and minimal ranges.

Water parks/tubing operators can operate at 50% capacity in both the moderate and minimal ranges.

Multiple businesses that had been allowed to reopen have been closed by the state for violating health protocols, and some of them have been allowed to open again.

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