The decision to close schools in March was swift due to COVID-19: Gov. Doug Ducey closed the buildings in a day as the state stopped the effects of the virus.
Now, one by one, public schools in Arizona are opening their doors again to students.
While there has been a steady decline in the number of COVID-19 cases in Arizona, this possible virus can speed up the spread again. But it does not appear that the schools will close again under a blanket order.
Rather, it is more likely that decisions will be made school by school, depending on the level of prevalence in a community and whether a school itself is experiencing an outbreak.
Director of Arizona Department of Health Services Drs. Cara Christ said, “This lot is going to depend on that school and that specific school board in that county.”
State health officials narrowed the state COVID-19 matrix to three data points to make decisions about reopening schools:
- A decline in COVID cases for two consecutive weeks, or a rate of less than 100 cases per 100,000 cases.
- An infection rate below 7% for two consecutive weeks.
- Hospital visits for diseases such as COVID are less than 10% for two consecutive weeks.
County health officials have to show the number of zip codes and areas in the school district where the prevalence is substantial, moderate, and minimal. In areas where the prevalence is moderate or minimal, health guidelines recommend keeping schools open.
Likewise, if the number rises above the benchmark set by the state for two consecutive weeks, health officials recommend schools return to virtual education, Christ said.
“If one of the metrics gets spread a lot … we recommend that they start preparing for virtual learning,” she said.
But the final decision will not be made by state health officials, she said. Instead, it will come down to local school boards.
Jill Humphries, a board member at Gilbert, said the state’s health matrix has been carefully studied since it was unveiled.
Schools in Gilbert opened to a person learning on Sept 8, but half of the school’s students are on campus in a single day. If the student’s level remains low, they are on an optional program and will return to the full one-week program on 21 September.
“My hope is that people will actually be motivated to do things that will keep our matrix good: wear a mask, wash your hands, socially distance, stay home when possible,” Humphries said said.
Reach the reporter at [email protected] ArizonaRepublic.com or follow her on Twitter @LilyAlta.
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