Health experts say new COVID-19 surge in Arizona fueled by students returning to school

Even as health officials in Arizona are still monitoring the latest surge in COVID-19 cases, the students going back to school have fueled the rise in cases.

"No matter if you’re young and you do feel invincible and you’ve already had COVID, get a vaccination," said University of Arizona President Robert Robbins, during a virtual briefing where he urged students and staff members to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The briefing also featured Dr. Richard Carmona, in his first appearance since being named by Governor Doug Ducey as a public health emergency advisor.

"We’ll disagree on some things, but that's OK. I think the Governor and I are lockstep in the fact that we must do everything we can to get people vaccinated and move forward," said Dr. Carmona.

Many school outbreaks in Maricopa County, according to health officials

In Maricopa County, members of the Board of Supervisors got an update from the county’s health director. The county is seeing a rise in cases fueled by children, with kids accounting for six percent of hospitalizations.

"There's something about the delta strain that it affects children just as much as other people," said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine.

According to Dr. Sunenshine, there are 166 ongoing school outbreaks.

"With a doubling every week, and that's something we have never seen before," said Dr. Sunenshine.

According to Dr. Sunenshine, "the likelihood that schools that do not have a mask requirement are twice as likely to have an outbreak as schools that do have a mask requirement."

Children, however, rarely become seriously ill from COVID-19, and Dr. Sunenshine says she expects a vaccine for kids under 12 by the end of the year.

Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kathy Hoffman, said she is deeply concerned about the rising outbreaks in schools.

"It's been really disheartening and disappointing to now be where we are," said Hoffman.

Hoffman said she does not agree with Governor Doug Ducey's decision to block schools from Federal grants for implementing mask use requirements.

"It takes us in the opposite direction of what we should be doing," said Hoffman. "We need steady leadership to do everything we can to maintain in-person learning, but when you are essentially preventing schools from having these mitigation strategies in place like masking, it’s causing there to be more outbreaks and more disruption to learning."

Hoffman said while she does not foresee school closures statewide, local closures could happen if cases keep rising.

"When we see severe outbreaks, we can see where a district or a school might have to transition to remote to prevent the spread of COVID-19," said Hoffman.

Hoffman also said there is basically no communication between her and the Governor.

"He has not been seeking the guidance of the education community on what can be done to help them maintain and keep their in-person learning going," Hoffman said.

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COVID-19 resources

LIST: Arizona school districts with mask requirements

LIST: Mask or no mask? Which retailers and restaurants are requiring face coverings

LIST: More than a dozen Arizona venues requiring COVID-19 vaccines, negative tests

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

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

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