Schools, mainly those without mask mandates, driving COVID-19 spread in Maricopa County
PHOENIX — Health officials said Monday that outbreaks in schools, especially among those that aren’t requiring masks, are driving the spread of COVID-19 in Arizona’s most populous county.
Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, Maricopa County medical director for disease control, said school outbreaks are doubling every week, a rate she said hasn’t been seen previously.
Schools that don’t have a mask mandate are also twice as likely to have an outbreak, according to Sunenshine.
Maricopa County has 204 active COVID-19 outbreaks in schools, according to its dashboard. Of those, 161 are in elementary and middle schools, where most students aren’t approved for the vaccine.
There were three times as many school outbreaks in August than in February, the peak of the winter rise in cases, Sunenshine said.
“When you put them all together, it’s going to increase rapidly and that is exactly what we saw because all of the potential layered mitigation strategies are not necessarily being put in place in schools,” Sunenshine said during a media briefing.
Several schools districts in metro Phoenix have reverted to mandatory masking indoors because of increasing COVID-19 numbers, but it’s only a temporary solution.
Once a law passed as part of the most recent state budget goes into effect Sept. 29, schools will no longer be able to require face coverings.
Gov. Doug Ducey has also offered additional federal funding to districts and charters that follow Arizona law and remain open for in-person instruction.
That comes as 6% of all hospitalizations in the county are due to children, a rate that has also been increasing, according to Sunenshine.
The contagious nature of the delta variant and inability for children under 12 to be vaccinated yet are other factors that are supercharging COVID-19 issues in schools, Sunenshine said.
“More children are being affected,” Sunenshine said.