AZ Schools “Not Ready” To Reopen, 6,158 Families Access Enrichment Centers

On July 31, Governor Doug Ducey visited the Valley Child Care & Learning Center, a childcare facility that’s participating in the Enrichment Centers Program. [Photo via AZ Governor’s Office]

On Monday, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman announced in a tweet her belief that public schools will not ready to welcome students by August 17.

“I want to make clear that Arizona is not currently in a place to resume traditional in-person instruction or hybrid learning models. Every indicator shows that there is high community spread across the state,” Hoffman tweeted.

The Arizona Department of Health Services is expected to release public health metrics on August 7, intended to provide guidance on how to safely open schools and resume in-person learning.

Although, Arizona’s case growth is currently 0.6 percent, the lowest ever recorded, Hoffman says schools are “unlikely” to reopen safely.

“Our state is simply not ready to have all our students and educators congregate in school facilities,” continued Hoffman.

At the same time, Arizona has been operating child enrichment centers. According to the Governor’s Office:

● 570 providers have registered as Enrichment Centers in 56 cities and towns across the state;
● 6,158 families of critical health care and essential public sector workers have qualified for priority childcare, and can now access the care that best fits their needs;
● And 4,565 families have qualified for and are utilizing a childcare scholarship.

Several Enrichment Centers are located in public school facilities.

Enrichment Centers provide child care for first responders, critical health care workers, essential public sector workers, grocery store employees and food bank workers.

The ADI reached out to the Governor’s Office and the Arizona Department of Health Services in an attempt to ascertain whether any transmission of COVID-19 has occurred in the centers and if any centers have been shut down due to COVID-19 cases. We have received no response to our inquiry.

Last week, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) urged states to begin reopening schools. The director of the CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield told The Hill, that the health risks of keeping schools closed are greater than those of opening them.

“I’m of the point of view as a public health leader in this nation, that having the schools actually closed is a greater public health threat to the children than having the schools reopen,” Redfield told The Hill.

On July 23, the CDC released a paper, The Importance of Reopening America’s Schools this Fall, outlining the considerations involved in reopening schools:

As families and policymakers make decisions about their children returning to school, it is important to consider the full spectrum of benefits and risks of both in-person and virtual learning options. Parents are understandably concerned about the safety of their children at school in the wake of COVID-19. The best available evidence indicates if children become infected, they are far less likely to suffer severe symptoms. Death rates among school-aged children are much lower than among adults. At the same time, the harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well-known and significant. Further, the lack of in-person educational options disproportionately harms low-income and minority children and those living with disabilities. These students are far less likely to have access to private instruction and care and far more likely to rely on key school-supported resources like food programs, special education services, counseling, and after-school programs to meet basic developmental needs.

The best available evidence indicates that COVID-19 poses relatively low risks to school-aged children. Children appear to be at lower risk for contracting COVID-19 compared to adults. To put this in perspective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of July 17, 2020, the United States reported that children and adolescents under 18 years old account for under 7 percent of COVID-19 cases and less than 0.1 percent of COVID-19-related deaths. Although relatively rare, flu-related deaths in children occur every year. From 2004-2005 to 2018-2019, flu-related deaths in children reported to CDC during regular flu seasons ranged from 37 to 187 deaths. During the H1N1pandemic (April 15, 2009 to October 2, 2010), 358 pediatric deaths were reported to CDC. So far in this pandemic, deaths of children are less than in each of the last five flu seasons, with only 64.† Additionally, some children with certain underlying medical conditions, however, are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.*

Scientific studies suggest that COVID-19 transmission among children in schools may be low. International studies that have assessed how readily COVID-19 spreads in schools also reveal low rates of transmission when community transmission is low. Based on current data, the rate of infection among younger school children, and from students to teachers, has been low, especially if proper precautions are followed. There have also been few reports of children being the primary source of COVID-19 transmission among family members. This is consistent with data from both virus and antibody testing, suggesting that children are not the primary drivers of COVID-19 spread in schools or in the community. No studies are conclusive, but the available evidence provides reason to believe that in-person schooling is in the best interest of students, particularly in the context of appropriate mitigation measures similar to those implemented at essential workplaces.

According to a new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, “80 percent of people who have died of COVID-19 in the U.S. to date were age 65 or older, though the share varies considerably by state — from a high of 94 percent in Idaho to a low of 70 percent in the District of Columbia.”

The study found that “states in which deaths among those 65 and older account for a somewhat lower share of all COVID-19 deaths compared to the national average are in the South and Sun Belt. Many of these states are hotspots where the virus has surged more recently and where deaths among older adults may be lagging, including Arizona where 74 percent of COVID-19 deaths are among those 65 and older.”