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Maricopa County recommendations for schools include masks, what to do if someone on campus tests positive for COVID-19

Right now, schools cannot reopen for in-person classes until August 17, but many districts are making decisions now on what school will look like.

PHOENIX — With less than a month until Arizona schools can reopen for in-person classes, Maricopa County Public Health is revealing their recommendations for schools to reopen this fall.

“This is a really tough situation that is constantly changing,” Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, Maricopa County’s medical director, said.

Sunenshine said a specific date for opening schools should not be the goal.

“What’s important is looking at local transmission of COVID-19 in the community,” Sunenshine said.

Sunenshine suggested educators and public health experts should consider using criteria like seeing a downward trend of new cases, a decrease in the percent of positive tests, and make sure that widespread testing with fast turnaround times is available when deciding on reopening schools.

The county is also “strongly” recommending masks be worn by everyone, except those that have a medical condition that makes them unable to do so.

“To reduce any spread because we know maintaining 6 feet of distance throughout the entire day is very difficult,” Sunenshine said.

Sunenshine said kids can get infected with the virus and infect others, even though they get fewer symptoms when they contract COVID-19. Adding the adults in the school community are important to remember when considering how the virus spreads.  

“What we know for sure is that kids can transmit the disease to each other and they can transmit it to adults,” Sunenshine said.

As for when a student, teacher, or someone else on school grounds tests positive, Sunenshine said schools are not required to report to the county when they have a positive case.

As for county recommendations, Sunenshine said the person who’s COVID-19 positive should be isolated. Close contacts would also need to be identified and quarantined to watch for symptoms. Sunenshine said a close contact would be defined as someone who was within 6-feet of the infected person for 10 minutes or longer.

To help with isolation, Maricopa County is giving out PPE “starter kits” to 1,450 schools. Included in the kits are one no-contact thermometer, 50 surgical masks, 100 pairs of gloves, 10 face shields, five reusable gowns, and 10 disposable gowns.

As for whether the county would recommend a school shut down, Sunenshine said it will be taken on a case-by-case basis.

“It depends on the percent of students that are absent, the percent of students having symptoms, what type of exposure there was and what community transmission looks like,” Sunenshine said.

Right now, schools cannot resume in-person classes until Aug. 17, however, an announcement from Gov. Doug Ducey is expected this week.

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