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COVID cases in Pima County schools cause alarm

Published: Nov. 19, 2021 at 7:08 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The Pima County Health Department is running an ambitious program to get as many 5-to-11-year-old’s vaccinated as cases continue to rise not only among the general population but among schools too.

The number of reported school cases rose from 4,684 cases last week to 5,412 this week. The biggest week to week jump since school began in July.

There have been 176 outbreaks in Pima County schools , 30 in the past week, and 106 classrooms have been shutdown, 12 in the past week.

“We work hand in hand with our schools and working with them on these closures, said Brian Eller, a health department liaison who works with the schools. “We do not make that decision unilaterally and we do not make that decision lightly.”

Still, the case rates for young children are rising according to health officials.

“As case rates to up, some children will get fairly ill and end up hospitalized,” said Dr. Theresa Cullen, the Pima County Health Director. She says there’s no shortage of pediatric beds at the moment.

As of this week, 69,000 young children have been vaccinated but that leaves about 140,000 who have not. And with 40% of the population which remains unvaccinated in Pima County, it’s a worrisome combination.

“I’m worried we’re in a lot of trouble here because school is in session,” said Dr. Matt Heinz, a Pima County Supervisor in District 2. “So you have kids in school spreading virus like they tend to do and bring it back into their homes.”

Which is one reason the county health department is taking mobile vans to schools to get as many vaccinated as quickly as possible. They have proven to be very popular.

“We’ve had really long lines, if anything that’s the issue,” said Eller. “It takes a little longer when you have 150 to 300 people waiting to get their vaccine.”

But it’s likely not a bad issue to have which can get the children waiting with their parents or guardian a new backpack or coloring book as a reward.

And now with the holidays fast approaching, with more family get togethers, more congregating indoors and a high rate of unvaccinated, the county is not optimistic about the near future.

“I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t know when we’re going to get out of this but I have no reassurance as we enter the holiday season,” said Cullen. “And people increase their social activity that we will not continue to see the numbers we see right now.”