Arizona school leaders urge public to be cautious as coronavirus cases surge

Nov 11, 2020, 4:35 AM | Updated: 8:19 am

PHOENIX — Arizona school district leaders urged the public to keep its guard up against the coronavirus as the number of new cases continues to rise.

They argued reducing the coronavirus numbers is critical to keep schools open.

“While many of us have COVID fatigue, COVID has not been fatigued,” Mesa Public Schools Superintendent Andi Fourlis said at a press conference Monday. “It is still alive and well, and we have to do all that we can to keep it out of our schools.”

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman and Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ were also at the press conference Monday, asking the community to do its part to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Daily COVID-19 cases have been surging since the beginning of October. Tuesday’s reported total of 3,434 new coronavirus cases was the most in a day since July 25.

The number of deaths also has been rising to levels not seen since August. The same has been occurring with the number of Arizona’s confirmed or suspected COVID-19 hospital inpatients and COVID-19 patients in ICU beds.

State health officials have said the rise is expected given more students are returning to school and businesses are reopening.

School districts across the state began welcoming students back on campus for in-person classes in September and October. Others, especially those in areas with substantial spread of COVID-19, remained closed and kept offering online learning.

Mesa Public Schools transitioned to in-person classes five days a week in October. However, one of its high schools, Mesa High School, recently went back to in-person classes two days a week due to active coronavirus cases within the school and surrounding area.

The COVID-19 dashboard from the Maricopa County Department of Public Health shows Mesa Public Schools has an overall “moderate” risk for the coronavirus. It recommends a hybrid learning model, which is a blend of virtual and on-campus instruction.

But the cases per 100,000 people is classified as “substantial.”

Fourlis said the district has directly tied some COVID-19 cases to activities outside of school, including Halloween celebrations and large sleepovers.

“We have had families that have hosted their own homecoming parties,” she added. “We’ve not done those at schools, so they’ve done them in the neighborhoods.”

The Roosevelt School District is among those that haven’t reopened schools. It has been offering online learning for all students since the beginning of the school year.

“We’re positioned to offer an in-person experience on the other side of winter break,” Roosevelt School District Superintendent Quintin Boyce said during Monday’s press conference. “But the reality is the numbers are concerning.”

The COVID-19 dashboard from the Maricopa County Department of Public Health shows there’s a “moderate” overall risk for the Roosevelt School District and hybrid learning is recommended.

However, the cases per 100,000 people in the district is classified as “substantial.” That worries Boyce. He said what complicates the situation is that many students in the district live in multi-generational households.

“I want our students back in our schools, but this is incredibly difficult,” Boyce said, adding that he understands being in school “is the best place for students but not at the expense of safety.”

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Arizona school leaders urge public to be cautious as coronavirus cases surge