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ADHS, county health won't report COVID-19 outbreaks in schools to public

Posted at 6:20 PM, Aug 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-28 09:14:49-04

PHOENIX — A new emergency measure issued earlier this week by the Arizona Department of Health Services requires schools, child care centers, and shelters to report COVID-19 outbreaks to their local health departments.

It also requires schools, child care centers, and shelters to notify staff, faculty, students, parents, and guardians of outbreaks -- defined as two or more cases -- within 24 hours.

The public, however, does not need to be notified.

Both Maricopa County, the largest county in the state, and ADHS do not have plans to share outbreak information, including the names of the schools that report outbreaks, with the media or to the general public, according to spokespersons for the county and ADHS.

ABC15 has confirmed positive COVID-19 cases within some districts, but those cases were only reported after people reached out to the news station.

School data will, however, be included in the "congregate" settings tab in the state's COVID-19 dashboard under the "child/daycare" category, ABC15 has learned.

As of Aug. 27, 2020, there are six facilities in that category, but it is unclear if any of them are K-12 schools.

Officials with the governor’s office do not plan to release names of schools with outbreaks either, citing confidentiality, and to comply with state law. It was not immediately clear which state law the governor's office was relying on.

ABC15 has reached out to ADHS for clarification but did not immediately hear back.

Will Humble, the state's former public health director, said schools typically do not release disease information publicly unless there is a reason.

"We will release information when there’s a compelling public health reason to release it, but otherwise we don’t because we want to keep a good reputation in terms of ensuring reports of communicable diseases are kept confidential, and that preserves the reporting pipeline that public health relies on," he said.

He said if health officials wanted to share that information, though, they could.

Schools do have to publicly post their mitigation strategies -- the changes they're making to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to keep students safe -- on their districts' websites.

In a press release this week, ADHS Director Dr. Cara Christ said schools, daycares and shelters reporting COVID-19 cases would be the same as reporting other communicable diseases, including mumps, measles, and chickenpox.

“Schools, child care centers, and shelters have always worked with public health and have been among the best reporters of communicable disease information,” she said in a statement. “This emergency measure addresses the serious threat COVID-19 poses to our communities and allows public health and our schools to work together to keep our kids safe.”

If an outbreak is reported, it will then be up to the schools to work with their local county health department to see if classes would need to be canceled or if the school would need to temporarily close.