PHOENIX — Parents have been faced with so many tough decisions this year about their child’s education, and with rising COVID-19 numbers in Maricopa County, it looks like another one is right around the corner.
According to Maricopa County Public Health, the number of school districts in the community "substantial spread" area for COVID-19 has grown significantly.
"We see about a doubling every two to three weeks in the number of students and staff that are impacted or have been infected by COVID-19," said ABC15 Data Analyst Garrett Archer. "COVID-19 is back to having pretty substantial community spread."
The latest update from Maricopa County shows virtually the entire county in either moderate or substantial COVID-19 spread, meaning state and county benchmarks -- case rates, percent positivity, and COVID-like illness -- are high. If schools followed state recommendations, every county but Greenlee should be in hybrid learning. But in Maricopa County, of the 61 schools with outbreaks, 74% (45) are open. Also, 74% of school outbreak COVID-19 cases are students.
There are 283 school outbreak-associated COVID-19 cases in the county, 213 (74%) are in students, and the other 74 cases (26%) are in staff.
High schoolers have been hit much harder than elementary school students. At Mesa Public Schools, 940 students and staff across the district are in quarantine. Nearly 60 cases in the high schools.
"There’s a much higher chance that a high school student is going to be infected by COVID-19 outside of the school premises than it would be an elementary school student," said Archer.
"For example, I have a first grader, I can pretty much control what he does outside of school. If I had a 16-year-old, that becomes more problematic," said Pediatrician Gary Kirkilas. "On schools: Children make up roughly about 22% of Arizona yet only 14% of the new cases are kids."
"If you have members in your house that are high risk, maybe consider returning to virtual learning if it’s not already in place," added Kirkilas.
Chris Pettit has two sons at Sunnyslope High School in the Glendale Union High School District. They've been doing in-person learning two days a week.
"We're all having to make tough decisions, it seems. And we all have the same data, but every set of parents is going to make different sets of decisions based on their realities and how they respond to it, and we're all struggling," said Chris Pettit. "We feel confident that they're in a safe environment as best as can be, even if cases are rising until the district decides it's unsafe, we feel it's pretty safe.”
Erin Baker has two children in the Chandler Unified School District. She said her daughter is doing great in elementary school but it's a different story for her sophomore son at Casteel High School. The school is reporting 18 active cases and has had to quarantine about 200 students.
"I think they should close down the school and teach the high school kids online virtually but live. If they don't do that, I'm probably switching him to Chandler Online Academy, which is not the same," said Baker.
Baker said it's been stressful, but she feels the district and schools are doing the best they can.
"My main complaint is with the governor and state. I feel they've left all these districts floundering and teachers and board are not health experts. The state has health experts and they should be giving clear guidance with strict rules, cut-offs and funding," said Baker.