ASU expert says Arizona seeing COVID-19 surge, parents concerned over in-person learning

Arizona is in the midst of a surge in coronavirus cases that resembles the early stages of the summer spike that made the state one of the world’s hardest hit hotspots for COVID-19, a prominent researcher said Wednesday.

Dr. Joshua LaBaer, director of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, attributes the latest spike to fatigue with the social distancing and mask wearing that contained the outbreak in June and July. 

“We are kind of looking like we did in mid-June,” LaBaer said. “Not a good place to be.”

Arizona on Wednesday reported 975 new confirmed coronavirus cases and another 17 deaths. The 7-day rolling average of daily new cases in Arizona has risen over the past two weeks from 536 on Oct. 6 to 886 on Tuesday. The rate of positive tests — an indication of how prevalent the virus in the community — also is increasing. 

The numbers reported by the Arizona Department of Health Services bring the total to 233,912 known cases and 5,854 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Hospitals reported 832 beds used by COVID-19 patients, the highest number since late August but well below the peak of about 3,500 in July. 

Wearing masks, keeping distance from other people and avoiding groups of more than 10 people can prevent the level of infection from matching the summer highs, when some hospitals became overcrowded and the number of deaths exploded, LaBaer said. Aggressive testing can identify cases early so infectious people can isolate themselves, he added.

“I’m hoping — because we’ve been down this road before, Arizonans know what this looks like — that we can respond to this quickly,” LaBaer said. 

The mitigation strategies, he said, “worked last time. They will work again.” 

Compared with the last surge, the virus is now spreading among younger people, LaBaer said. Doctors have also learned more about how to manage the disease. Both factors have, so far, helped to limit the growth in hospitalizations. 

Still, many infectious disease experts worry that the virus spreading among young people will inevitably allow it to infect their older or more vulnerable relatives and friends. 

Meanwhile, Kingman joined two other Mohave County cities in repealing a local mask mandate. The City Council voted 4-3 on Tuesday to repeal the requirement that people over age 6 wear face coverings when entering places of business, The Miner reported.

Bullhead City and Lake Havasu City, the county’s other two population centers, lifted their mask mandates last month.

Parents concern about their children, students 

The traditional first day back to school picture looked very different for valley families like Charlotte Shaff’s.

"I was a little nervous. This is a big endeavor. Sending our kids back when they've been at home in front of a screen since March was nerve wracking. I was nervous for my kids. I was nervous for the educators," she said.

Maricopa County’s Health Department numbers show since Aug. 30, schools have had COVID-19 outbreaks in the county. Of 116 school-related COVID-19 cases, 83 were in students and 33 are in staff.

Shaff says she is encouraged that in the Madison School District, they are being creative as they try to prevent the spread of the virus.

"One of the list items was for my children to bring a towel so they can go outside and do some of their learning outside," she said.

Some schools have had to pull back in-person learning due to outbreaks. The district is now having teachers do online and in-person classes.

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COVID-19 symptoms

Symptoms for coronavirus COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. These, of course, are similar to the common cold and flu. 

Expect a common cold to start out with a sore or scratchy throat, cough, runny and/or stuffy nose. Flu symptoms are more intense and usually come on suddenly, and can include a high fever. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear more slowly. They usually include fever, a dry cough and noticeable shortness of breath, according to the World Health Organization. A minority of cases develop pneumonia, and the disease is especially worrisome for the elderly and those with other medical problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or heart conditions.

RELATED: Is it the flu, a cold or COVID-19? Different viruses present similar symptoms

COVID-19 resources

CDC Website for COVID-19 (In Spanish/En Español)

AZDHS Website for COVID-19 (In Spanish/En Español)