By Aisha Sander
Aug. 21, 2020

The AZ Dept of Health Services (AZDHS) has provided three benchmarks to school districts to meet before starting in-person instruction along with a school data dashboard which is updated every Thursday. They 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.” Despite the fact that Santa Cruz County has had a downward trend in daily new cases and COVID-19 related hospitalizations for over a month, the county is unable to meet the benchmark for two consecutive weeks of testing positivity of below 7%. The percent positivity is calculated by dividing the number of cases with number of tests administered (only PCR swab tests). For example, if ten people were tested today and one person tested positive the percent positivity would be 10%. 

For the week of July 26 the positivity rate for Santa Cruz County was 4.9%. The positivity rate for August 2, released on August 20, is listed as 11.4%. This percentage rate, however, does not include  data from the second testing blitz the county conducted on July 31 and Aug 1 in Patagonia and Rio Rico. Even though there were over 900 COVID tests administered during that blitz, the state only shows 308 tests administered, with 35 people testing positive. 

Jeff Terrell, the Director of Environmental Health Services at Santa Cruz County, does not know why it is taking so long for this data to be reflected on the state dashboard. The county has had Paradigm Labs of Tucson re-enter every result to the state in hope that the Aug 2 data would be updated by the Aug 20 deadline. It is Aug 21 and the data remains unchanged.

Terrell said that the benchmarks are “strictly guidance,” encouraging “districts to work with the health dept to come up with a plan.” Even if the data is corrected and the county does have two consecutive weeks of  positivity at 7% or lower, the positivity rate will most likely go back up in future weeks. Unless there is a testing blitz, the county is testing only about 60 to 70 people a week, many of whom are being tested solely because they are showing symptoms of the virus. Terrell said that the state knows that this is a challenge for many counties with testing numbers down everywhere in the state. He has asked them to either “throw out the metric all together, extrapolate the data differently, or set a condition such as a minimum of 500 tests per week for it to be a more accurate reflection of the spread of COVID-19 in a given area.”

Despite weeks of requests for aggregate data based on zip code, Terrell said, they have yet to receive what they need from the state to be able to tell the public the rate of positivity in specific zip codes such as Patagonia, Sonoita and Elgin. 

Dr. Cara Christ in a press conference on Aug 20 said that the state data dashboard is accurate and reflective of the trends in the state. However, for Santa Cruz county, especially in the Eastern part of the county where schools are waiting to reopen in-person instruction, the inaccurate data complicates decisions for reopening schools. Terrell said that he is in discussion with Elgin school Principal Mary Faley and has offered to have a zoom call with the Governing School Board regarding their reopening plan. As he said on Aug. 7 to the PRT, “if the school has a good plan it can reopen.”

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