With trends showing the spread of COVID-19 in Arizona slowing slightly but still far too high, Governor Doug Ducey on Thursday announced an extension of last month's order that limited restaurant capacity and shut down bars and gyms.
Ducey, appearing in the televised news conference with state Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman and state Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ, sounded bullish on rebooting K-12 education in some format — though he was light on the details of what that would look like or when schools would resume in-person instruction. An August 17 start-date was now "unlikely," Hoffman said, and the state leaders declined to set any new date as a goal.
There was also no date given for the potential reopening of bars, gyms, nightclubs and water parks, or allowing groups of 50 people or more. Those restrictions, enacted in a June 29 executive order, were supposed to be good through July 27, with reconsideration after that. The latest order says the order will be extended beyond July 27, to be reviewed every two weeks for a possible extension.
The number of new cases reported daily and the decreasing percent of tests coming back positive, (a metric of how fast the virus is spreading), are trending in the right direction, Ducey said.
"Today we’re going to continue to press on with the strategies that are working in Arizona," he said.
Arizona has had a total of 152,944 known cases of COVID-19 since January, the state DHS site says. Today, 2,335 new cases were reported, and 89 deaths, pushing the state's total number of coronavirus deaths above 3,000.
Ducey and Hoffman laid out some broad guidelines that Arizona schools must follow during the upcoming school year. Schools will be required to provide 180 days of instruction in some form, such as online learning. The DHS is to develop and provide public health benchmarks for schools to use in determining if it is safe to resume in-person instruction. Schools will need to create their own mask policies. On-site learning and support services will be required for certain at-risk students who have no other place to go.
In general, schools will be required to begin distance learning by the first day of school in their calendar, regardless of whether in-person instruction resumes.
Notably, both Ducey and Hoffman said schools won't be held to a hard date to resume in-person instruction; previously, Ducey had pointed to August 17 as a tentative start date.
"Today’s plan is both comprehensive and flexible and will allow schools to adapt to the unique public health needs of their communities," Hoffman said. "At this point that it’s unlikely that schools will be ready to start full in-person instruction on August 17."
"I cannot ask educators and families to enter this school year without critical policies, assurances and resources to set them up for success," she added.
The announcement comes after calls to delay in-person K-12 instruction by Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, who, along with other Arizona mayors, signed on to a letter to Ducey calling for in-person teaching to be pushed back.
Ducey said that people should review the websites of their local school districts for more specifics on their plans.
"Arizona will be open for learning and our priorities will be public health and safety. There will be parental choice, options for families in different situations," he said. "Our decisions will be data-driven, with maximum flexibility to local school leaders."
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.