New COVID-19 infections in Arizona surge past 2,800 cases

Arizona is seeing another significant leap in new COVID-19 infections, with more than 2,800 reported Friday.

The number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations also continued to climb, with 1,309 patients. The state Department of Health Services dashboard showed 2,826 new confirmed cases and 42 deaths. The latest figures bring Arizona’s pandemic totals to 940,762 cases and 18,342 deaths.

J.O. Combs Unified School District in the San Tan Valley near the Phoenix suburb of Chandler announced that fifth and sixth-graders at one school will learn remotely next week because of multiple positive cases. According to the district’s dashboard, Ellsworth Elementary has 53 active coronavirus cases.

Public health experts say the highly transmissible delta variant is primarily what is driving surges in cases across the U.S.

The increase in infections is fueling intense debate over Gov. Doug Ducey’s ban on mask mandates in schools. The Republican this summer signed legislation that bans schools from requiring children to wear masks. The ban doesn’t take effect until late September, but lawmakers declared it retroactive.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics have advised in recent weeks that everyone wear masks to schools in communities with substantial or high transmission of the virus.

Most Arizona schools returned this week, eight districts have now made indoor masking mandatory in defiance of the law. All except for Tucson Unified are in the Phoenix area. It has prompted a lawsuit from a Phoenix biology teacher.

Ducey’s office has said the mandates are not enforceable and that wearing a mask is a personal choice.

More than 150 Arizona doctors on Thursday pushed back, sending a letter urging Ducey to mandate masks in public schools. In the past week, leaders at some of the state’s major hospital systems warned they could be on the verge of another brutal surge. They also said most new patients were unvaccinated and skewing younger.

Brophy College Preparatory, a private, all-boys high school in Phoenix, will require everyone regardless of vaccine status to wear masks indoors when classes start Monday. Masks will then be optional starting Sept. 13. But that’s when students and staff must be vaccinated or face weekly testing, according to a letter from the principal.

Any student who wants to participate in overnight retreats or school-related travel will have to show proof of vaccination. The Catholic, Jesuit high school, which counts Ducey’s two sons as alumni, is not obligated to follow the state law.

Nationwide the thinking has been split, with some states banning mask mandates in public schools and others requiring it. Some are simply leaving it up to local school district officials, many of whom are exhausted by months of conflict over the matter.

More than 6.9 million vaccine doses have now been administered in Arizona. Over 3.8 million people or 53% of the eligible population have gotten at least one dose. More than 3.3 million have gotten fully vaccinated.

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