There have been 32 COVID-19 outbreaks and 131 associated cases in Maricopa County schools since August.
The decision to reopen was left up to individual districts, so situations vary widely. Some have followed the state’s criteria, many chose to go fully in person despite the guidelines, and a few decided to play it extra safe and stay online for longer.
For the schools that have opened, many have managed to operate without much of a problem.
But while overall cases rise in the state, outbreaks and quarantine periods are becoming more common.
Outbreaks are defined as two or more people reporting COVID-19 symptoms within two weeks with signs pointing to transmission happening at the facility, or when multiple people are out sick beyond what is expected.
While the state requires schools to report outbreaks to the health department and inform the staff and families there, they are not required to publicly disclose the information.
Because of this lack of transparency, The Arizona Republic and other news outlets have kept running lists based on reports from schools and families.
The Republic lists more than 100 instances of at least one person on a school’s campus testing positive for the virus.
Maricopa County Public Health, which reports an overview of school outbreaks but doesn’t name specific locations, says there have been 32 outbreaks since August and 131 COVID-19 cases associated with those outbreaks.
Of those cases, 72% have been in students and 28% in staff.
Some districts, however, have taken it upon themselves to create dashboards naming the schools where cases have occurred.
For example, Laveen School District shows two active cases, one at Paseo Pointe Elementary School and the other at Trailside Point.
The people who develop symptoms and/or test positive for COVID-19 aren’t the only ones affected.
Students and staff who were in contact with those people are asked to quarantine themselves for two weeks to prevent further spread, sometimes forcing schools to once again shut down.
This happened at Combs High School in San Tan Valley, part of one of the first school districts that tried to reopen in August. The board’s plans were thwarted, however, when so many teachers called out that schools didn’t have enough staff to open.
The high school closed Oct. 14 and will offer only remote learning at least through Oct. 27 due to an outbreak. Twenty staff members and 450 students were asked to quarantine.
Chaparral High School in Scottsdale hasn’t closed but has asked more than 200 students to quarantine due to 18 cases confirmed on campus.
And the outbreaks aren’t just happening in high schools.
Wilson School District in Phoenix paused in-person learning through Nov. 9 after seeing an outbreak at the primary school eight days after opening.
The big picture
Despite the disruptions, Arizona health department Director Dr. Cara Christ told KTAR News on Thursday that schools are doing a “great job” handling the pandemic.
She said the state expected there to be some outbreaks with students returning to classrooms, but that mitigation measures like mask requirements are helping to keep numbers down.
Marcy Flanagan, Maricopa County Public Health’s executive director, told The Republic last week that the number of school outbreaks in the county has been relatively low, especially considering just two people testing positive is considered an outbreak.
However, some public health experts have been raising red flags about the state’s overall case number increasing.
On Wednesday, Dr. Joshua LaBaer, executive director of Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, said the state is seeing a surge.
While the situation isn’t nearly as bad as it got in mid-summer, when Arizona was considered the world’s No. 1 hotspot for the virus, numbers are starting to mirror what they looked like in June, when the spike was beginning.
Arizona’s Rt, which when above 1 indicates a disease is spreading, reached 1.16 on Wednesday.
The health department reported 994 new cases Thursday, drawing the state close to a pandemic total of 235,000.
Nearly 6,000 Arizonans have died from the virus, peaking July 17 with 100 deaths in one day.