Arizona health boss would prefer schools stay open despite virus surge
PHOENIX — Arizona’s top public health official maintains that schools should continue with in-person instruction if possible, even as case numbers begin to surge again in the state and districts return to virtual learning.
Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said Friday that the benefits of on-site learning are too plentiful to ignore.
Christ is also confident that county health departments are working effectively with districts that do have coronavirus outbreaks.
“There are so many important things that [in-person learning] provides to our kids,” Christ told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show on Friday.
Several Arizona school districts have announced a return to virtual-only learning this week because of COVID-19 outbreaks or out of an abundance of caution.
Four districts shut down on-campus instruction at schools Thursday, notably Paradise Valley and Glendale Union.
A total of 64 schools have had COVID-19 outbreaks in Maricopa County, with 48 considered active, affecting more than 300 staff and students.
Christ said it’s up to families to make sure children are following mitigation strategies not only when they’re at school, but when they’re at home.
“The kids are doing a great job with mask wearing and physically distancing during the school day,” Christ said. “That needs to continue at home, at practice and when they are hanging with their friends because we are seeing increased transmission in the community.”
It’s unlikely all Arizona schools would be forced to shut down in-person learning, even if the pandemic continues to worsen.
The state’s schools benchmarks for reopening, which are merely recommendations, have remained in at least the moderate range in all 15 counties for the past several weeks.
That’s due to the metric for regional percentage of hospital visits for COVID-like illnesses, which has been sitting in the minimal range for every county since the dashboard was launched in August.
Even so, Arizona is in the midst of another spike in cases.
The percent positivity so far this week through 40,513 tests recorded was 10%, which would be the highest since it was the same mark for the week starting July 26.
Arizona reported 3,015 new coronavirus cases and 17 more deaths on Friday, pushing the state’s totals to 269,577 COVID-19 infections and 6,257 fatalities.