Pima County shares guidance as districts prepare for some students to return

Updated: Aug. 14, 2020 at 10:45 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Pima County’s top health officials told local school leaders they will work as a team as districts reopen their doors to some students Monday morning.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s executive order requires public school districts and charter schools to offer an onsite option and support services for students who need a place to go on August 17.

The county’s ‘Back-To-School’ Committee, comprised of representatives of all area public school districts, charter and private schools, met Friday as they prepare for some students to return in just days.

“We are still in the midst of a very troubling time. We are still not out of the woods,” said Dr. Francisco Garcia, Director and Chief Medical Officer for Pima County.

Pima County’s benchmarks for when schools should return to in-person learning or a hybrid model will now align with those from the Arizona Department of Health Services. According to the ADHS, schools should wait to move until the spread in a county moves to a ‘moderate’ level. The benchmarks are recommendations, not requirements.


- A decline in cases OR less than 100 cases per 100,000 individuals for two consecutive weeks.

- A percent positivity below 7% for two consecutive weeks.

- Hospital visits for COVID-like illnesses below 10% for two consecutive weeks.

Dr. Garcia said officials would like to see the county in the ‘moderate,’ or yellow, level for a few weeks before districts start planning on in-person learning. He said the data shows Pima County is “getting better, little by little,” but the community need to continue to practice steps to slow the spread, like washing hands, wearing a mask and staying home if you are sick.

“That progress is not set in concrete. That progress, it will be precarious unless we can continue to engage in these mitigation efforts,” said Dr. Garcia.

The Pima County Health Department shared 16 pages of guidance with district and school leaders for the development of mitigation plans, putting the health and safety of students, faculty and staff first with the community in consideration.

The guidance includes recommendations on how to handle student and staff screening, being prepared with proper supplies and PPE and what to do if someone is showing symptoms.

That will also help determine who may need to isolate is a COVID case is in a certain classroom, cohort or office. A question still remains on when it would be necessary to shut down a school, if cases spread quickly.

“There is no CDC guidance for that. I asked the state that in the past 24 hours, and the best I can come up with is we will work with you. We will assess this based on the number of people in your facility, that may have been diagnosed with COVID and come through discussion and dialogue with you to what is the best recommendation for you at that time,” said Dr. Theresa Cullen, Director of the Pima County Health Department.

[ At-risk, special-needs students set to return to school on Aug. 17 ]

School districts have already made decision on students who will have a priority to the onsite learning space.

“If there is any doubt, please stay home and do remote learning as long as you possibly can and let our medical experts figure this out as we continue this process,” said Pima County Superintendent Dustin Williams.

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