Arizona governor says schools, mass gatherings, events of 50 or more canceled amid COVID-19 spread

Arizona’s governor and school superintendent on Sunday ordered a statewide closure of schools through at least March 27 as authorities rush to contain the outbreak of the new coronavirus.

Gov. Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said they’ll work with health officials to decide whether schools should remain closed longer.

Ducey and Hoffman faced growing pressure from parents, and on Sunday the state’s teachers union called for students to stay home. Public health authorities did not recommend school closures, saying there isn’t yet widespread community transmission of the virus in Arizona and keeping them open allows children to maintain routines and nutritional programs. Still, a growing number of districts made their own decisions to close or extend their spring breaks.

Ducey and Hoffman said they worked hard to keep schools open, but many districts are now worried about staffing and potential absences. They urged administrators to continue remote educational opportunities, such as online or printed materials sent home, as much as possible.

“The safest place for children during this time is at home,” they wrote in an open letter. “They should not be cared for by elderly adults or those with underlying health conditions, including grandparents and other family members.”

They said they’re working with nonprofits, religious institutions and others to make childcare options available to those who need them.

The decision affects about 1.1 million students attending Arizona’s K-12 public schools.

Hours before the announcement Sunday, the state’s largest teachers union said it would like to see students stay home from school “until education leaders and state policymakers can present a detailed plan of support that assures students will be returning to safe classrooms and healthy school sites.”

The Arizona Education Association also urged Ducey “to exercise all the powers of his office including convening the legislature in Special Session to swiftly and directly address this unanticipated crisis.”

Meanwhile, public health officials on Sunday said Arizona had another case of the coronavirus, raising the state’s total to 13.

The Pima County Health Department announced its third presumptive positive case of COVID-19 in Pima County.

They said the person is an older adult currently recovering in a Tucson-area hospital.

Health department officials said it was the first positive test result in Pima County as a result of commercial testing performed at a private laboratory.

Arizona announced three new cases of the coronavirus Saturday including the first in rural Graham County where a town’s school district had already shut down before test results were available on a school employee who now has tested positive.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends this to be in effect for 8 weeks.

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