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Pima County Health officials urge schools to consider suspending in-person learning

Pima County Health officials urge schools to consider suspending in-person learning

COVID testing

For the current week, 23% of those who were checked out in Arizona were found to test positive for the virus that causes COVID-19. That compares for 18% last week and 14% the week before.

The Pima County Health Department is telling schools to consider suspending in-person instruction as COVID-19 moves into substantial community spread in Tucson.

The three Arizona Department of Health Services metrics measuring the severity of the virus have gone into the red — number of cases per 100,000; the COVID-19 test positivity rate; and COVID-like symptoms seen in hospitals, Brian Eller, schools liaison for the Pima County Health Department, said in an email Friday, Dec. 11.

“We anticipate this situation will persist and next week the state will again report all three indicators in the red for Pima County,” he said. “Moreover, we do not believe that any new specific guidance for schools will be forthcoming from ADHS or the Governor’s Office in the near future.”

All three of those benchmarks were in moderate spread when the local health department gave schools the OK to begin limited in-person instruction. And the county health department has consistently said that when all three indicators are in the red for two weeks in a row, it is appropriate for schools to consider a return to all-virtual instruction, Eller said.

“We anticipate reaching that threshold next Thursday, and it is appropriate to begin preparations for that eventuality,” he said. “We make this recommendation despite our continued observation that the overwhelming majority of school-related cases are not acquired in the classroom.”

Transmission inside Tucson-area schools has been about 3% despite growing transmission throughout the community and a rising number of cases in schools — more than 1,000 cases since August. Gov. Doug Ducey has left decisions on closing up to individual schools and districts. As school boards across the state have agonized over these decisions, a number of Tucson districts have already announced a return to remote only, including Sunnyside, Sahuarita and Flowing Wells.

TUSD, the third-largest school district in the state, has yet to open for hybrid, and announced earlier this week that it will remain remote-only into the second semester in January.

“Pima County is committed to supporting all school districts and schools including those that may wish to continue in a hybrid status,” Eller said.

Contact reporter Danyelle Khmara at or 573-4223.

On Twitter: @DanyelleKhmara

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