PHOENIX (AP) - The largest high school district in Arizona has announced it will remain closed to in-person instruction until next year, continuing online learning through the district’s second term, which ends in December.
The Phoenix Union High School District originally had plans to start in-person learning next month but health data still shows substantial COVID-19 spread in many of the schools’ regions.
“We have come to the realization that it will not be possible for our community to move from substantial to moderate to moderate to minimal in just a few weeks,” Superintendent Dr. Chad Gestson said, informing parents of the decision Monday in a YouTube video.
Gestson said the district is relying on state health benchmarks, which signal when spread has slowed enough to return to in-person, in making the decision to remain closed.
The district said it will consider more on-site options in November if cases continue to decline.
With the announcement, Phoenix Union, which serves more than 27,000 high school students, will have operated online for most of the year.
In other developments, Arizona health officials on Tuesday reported 484 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases and 22 more deaths as some coronavirus-related hospitalization metrics reached their lowest levels since April.
The Department of Health Services reported 138 intensive care unit beds were in use Monday for COVID-19 patients, below the 155 when the state started reporting hospitalization data on April 8. Use of ventilators also was below levels first reported in April.
Arizona became a national hot spot in June and July after Gov. Doug Ducey relaxed stay-home orders, but numbers of new cases and deaths began to drop in late July after Ducey and local governments imposed new restrictions.
Johns Hopkins University data analyzed by The Associated Press showed drops in Arizona’s seven-day rolling averages of daily new cases and daily deaths over the past two weeks.
The average of daily new cases went from 489 on Aug. 31 to 394 on Monday and average new daily deaths dropped from 43.2 to 14.7.
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.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some - especially older adults and people with existing health problems - it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
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