MESA, Ariz. — One of the Valley's largest school districts is experiencing a higher rate of transmission for the coronavirus this school year.
Mesa Public Schools, which consists of 80 schools, has had 577 students and 123 employees test positive for COVID-19 since classes began on Aug. 3.
Associate Superintendent Holly Williams said that 300 of those positive cases were reported last week, which was more than any amount reported during last year's peak.
"We are seeing more transmission in our schools," Williams said on Wednesday.
As a result of the higher cases, the district had to quarantine 1,859 individuals last week, which included 8 whole classrooms of students.
Williams said Mesa is seeing more elementary students contract the virus this year compared to 2020.
"We are seeing many more younger cases," she said. "Last year, our impact was largely at the high schools."
The district of 64,890 students and employees currently has 226 active COVID-19 cases.
The district has decided to modify its mitigation strategies by requiring students to wear masks when it may help reduce transmission in a specific classroom.
If a class experiences a high number of COVID-19 cases, then the students in that classroom may be asked to temporarily wear masks for up to 10 days.
If 3% of a school's population has tested positive for COVID-19, then all of its students would be forced to temporarily wear masks. None of the district's schools have met this threshold yet.
But Williams was clear to clarify that Mesa is not planning to issue a district-wide mask mandate, which some other Valley districts have already begun to implement in the last few weeks.
"We are not suggesting that every student wear a mask every day until Sept. 29, when the governor's (anti-mandate) law goes into effect," Williams said.
The goal is to only enforce masks when they may help prevent an outbreak from getting bigger, she added.
Williams said Mesa had one classroom initially report three positive COVID-19 cases. But once parents voluntarily took their children to get tested, the classroom's outbreak grew to 10 confirmed cases.
"That's a lot, that's a lot," Williams said. "So if we maybe had masks a little bit earlier, maybe that wouldn't have been as contagious."
The district is expecting to receive rapid COVID-19 tests from the Maricopa County Public Health Department, which will allow schools to have sick kids voluntarily get tested while they're still on campus.
Mesa Public Schools will additionally soon be reintroducing its COVID-19 data dashboard and plans to update it with new infection rates on a daily basis.
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