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'Running rampant': New county report shows COVID rates soaring among children since school year started

A U of A researcher says that for first time during pandemic, children's case rates will surpass older Arizonans'

PHOENIX — Less than a month into the new school year, Maricopa County public health officials said COVID-19 outbreaks have more than doubled since children returned to class - with kids younger than 12 accounting for one in every six cases countywide.

In an hour-long presentation on Tuesday to the County Board, medical director Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine presented a series of graphics that delivered one message: face masks in schools could prevent the spread.

The county's report mirrors a statewide analysis by University of Arizona health care researcher Dr. Joe K. Gerald.

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Gerald reported that for the first time during the 19-month-old pandemic, case rates among children younger than 15 were on the brink of surpassing rates among all other age groups.

The 10- to 14-year-old age group has the highest case rate.

"Resumption of K-12 in-person instruction in the face of high community transmission, inadequate vaccination, prohibited masking, and inadequate surveillance testing is undoubtedly the cause." Gerald wrote in a report late last week.

"We know this illness is running rampant among children,: said Dr. Andrew Carroll, a family physician in Chandler who has tracked the pandemic,  

Carroll warns that COVID outbreaks aren't confined to a classroom. "This has got a trickle-down effect," Carroll said in an interview. 

"Kids go to school, kids get sick. they come home, expose their parents, parents have to stay home from work."

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Dana Fredericks, the parent of a Gilbert high schooler and a leader in the group Gilbert Parents for a Safe Return, said she was frustrated by the absence of mitigation rules, like a mask mandate, that apply to all. 

"When ... the rules came from the governor, he said everyone's going to mask up," Fredericks said. "Then he pushed it off to the school boards, and unfortunately they're being pulled in every direction."

The fate of Arizona's ban on mask mandates is up to the courts. The ban becomes law on September 29, but a judge will hear arguments on Sept. 13 on whether to block it from taking effect.

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