PHOENIX - Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Oct. 29 warned that a “storm is ahead” as coronavirus cases climb in the state, but defended new guidelines for in-person school instruction that will let students remain in class far beyond what earlier guidance would have recommended.
The Republican governor insisted that his administration consulted with public education and health officials before making the decision to ease guidance for when schools should consider ending in-person instruction and returning to online classes.
But Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, a Democrat, said in a tweet that her department did not request or recommend any changes to the state health department’s guidance.
And two major school administrator groups objected to the decision, saying it goes against months of planning done following the previous guidance. The Arizona School Administrators and the Arizona School Boards Association released a statement saying the change was made without communicating its reason or an understanding of its impact on schools.
Ritchie Taylor, Hoffman’s spokesman, said the Health Services Department presented the change as a done deal at a regular weekly meeting earlier this month of a group of county health officials and Education Department officials. The group has been meeting since the summer to collaborate on school virus issues.
“It was not put up for a collaborative debate or input,” Taylor said. “It was put up as a policy decision.”
The Health Services Department in August issued guidance outlining how and when schools can consider reopening and when they should close again if virus cases surge. Those rules suggested a return to remote learning if at least one of a county’s three benchmarks based on COVID-19 cases, testing positivity and prevalence of COVID-19-like illness moved from moderate to substantial spread.
Arizona health officials on Thursday reported over 1,300 additional known COVID-19 cases as seven-day rolling averages for new cases, new deaths and testing positivity in the state all rose over the past two weeks as the coronavirus outbreak continued to increase.
The Department of Health Services reported 1,315 additional cases and 13 additional deaths, increasing the state’s totals to 242,480 cases and 5,918 deaths.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
According to Johns Hopkins University data analyzed by The Associated Press, Arizona’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases rose from 728 per day on Oct. 14 to 1,036 on Oct. 28, while the average for daily deaths increased from 6 to 7.3 and the positivity average went from 7.2% to 9.8%.
Arizona was a national hot spot in June and July but COVID-19 cases and related hospitalizations then fell off before starting to gradually increase again in September. Cases and hospitalization rates remain far below summer highs.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.
The governor's office also announced more than $1.6 million in funding to expand assistance to the state's food banks amid the pandemic.
“By partnering with food banks and generous individuals around the state, Arizona is working to make sure that no family goes hungry this holiday season,” Ducey said in a statement. “During the pandemic, we’ve worked to stretch and strengthen the social safety net. We’ve seen demand increase at our food banks, and we are stepping up to meet that demand."
Governor criticized as COVID cases continue to grow
During the news conference, Gov. Ducey was criticized over the growing number of COVID-19 cases across Arizona.
"We did anticipate the rise in cases. We did say we’re going to stay vigilant and were not going to let our guard down," said Gov. Ducey.
The Governor was grilled about being part of large, potentially super spreader events, like several recent Trump rallies. Even the Governor's own health director called those gatherings a recipe for trouble.
"If you are going to attend a large gathering, or go somewhere that has people you don’t live in your house out with, take those precautions and stay six feet away from others. I would always recommend to wear masks," said Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ.
Christ said she expects a further spike in cases after Thanksgiving, when college students return home and families gather for the holidays.
“I hope that I am wrong, but what I would anticipate is to see a spike about 10 to 14 days after Thanksgiving and then potentially continue to increase over the next four to six weeks,” Christ said.
That would strain hospitals, who will also be dealing with normal seasonal flu cases and higher patient counts as winter visitors return to Arizona.
There was also a heated discussion over why the state loosened its coronavirus benchmarks for schools in the middle of a pandemic. The Governor insists those changes are what the schools wanted.
“Anything that’s been done is that our schools have been done, in coordination and cooperation with public education leaders and public health officials, and what you’re referring to was actually done at their request," said Gov. Ducey.
However, the sentiment was not shared by State Superintendent for Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, who said she did not request or recommend a change to COVID-19 benchmarks for Arizona schools.
Ducey dodged questions about why there was no announcement of the change and did not specifically say who requested them. The new guidance covers 1.1 million public school students in district and charter schools statewide. It doesn’t cover private or parochial schools.
Associated Press reporter Paul Davenport contributed.
In order to protect yourself from a possible infection, the CDC recommends:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- Monitor your health daily
FULL COVERAGE: fox10phoenix.com/coronavirus
Arizona COVID-19 resources, FAQ: azdhs.gov/coronavirus
On CoronavirusNOW.com, you'll find extensive coverage about COVID-19, including breaking news from around the country, exclusive interviews with health officials, and informative content from a variety of public health resources.
- Coronavirus in Arizona: Latest case numbers
- Coronavirus: Symptoms, testing and how to prepare amid growing COVID-19 outbreak
- How coronavirus differs from flu: Symptoms to watch for
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.
Right now there's one big difference between flu and coronavirus: A vaccine exists to help prevent the flu and it's not too late to get it. It won't protect you from catching the coronavirus, but may put you in a better position to fight it.
To protect yourself, wash your hands well and often, keep them away from your face, and avoid crowds and standing close to people.
And if you do find yourself showing any of these flu or coronavirus symptoms - don't go straight to your doctor's office. That just risks making more people sick, officials urge. Call ahead, and ask if you need to be seen and where.