By Aisha Sander
Aug 7, 2020

The three benchmarks the schools are recommended to meet before resuming in-person instruction are “a decline in weekly average cases for two consecutive weeks (not including the current week); two weeks with percent positivity below 7% (not including the current week); and two weeks with hospital visits due to COVID-like illness below 10 per cent.” (AZDHS Safely Returning to In-Person Instruction, Aug 6, 2020).  

Screenshot of Santa Cruz County School AZ Data Dashboard on Aug 7, 2020.

As of Aug. 7 no county in Arizona meets all three of these benchmarks. Santa Cruz county, as of Aug 7, does not meet the benchmark of two weeks with percent positivity below 7%. Jeff Terrell, the Director of Environmental Health at the County Health Dept. said “it is up to schools to make the final decision. However we don’t meet the benchmark.”

“The numbers from the blitz results are still not final and not been entered into the state dashboard. When those numbers go in there is a possibility that the county will meet the benchmark of testing positivity under 7 % but I am waiting to see,” said Terrell. “The testing positive rate was under 5 % for the 930 tests in Nogales and similarly the testing positivity rate from Rio Rico and Patagonia blitzes is “looking very good, under 5 % for sure and possibly even less than that,” said Terrell. “Until the data from the blitzes is entered the current positivity rate is not an accurate picture,” said Terrell. 

“We are hoping to have aggregate data from the testing blitzes from the lab by early next week” Terrell said. “From there we can break down the data by zip code if needed to help guide districts more clearly.”

The county has advocated to the state about how rural counties are different than metro areas in regards to the spread of COVID-19. The state has written in its guidelines that “the Local Health Department may modify a specific benchmark,” which may be the course of action for school districts in Eastern Santa Cruz county. Terrell said he can talk to schools one-on-one as needed in assessing the benchmarks and reiterated that under Gov. Ducey’s Exec. Order “Open for Learning” schools will have the final say when to restart in-person instruction. Terrell is also scheduled to discuss this with the county School Supt. Office on Monday Aug. 10. 

The state has also started a separate school data dashboard which will be updated every Thursday for the previous two weeks of data on the three specified benchmarks.