Arizona teachers want school closures as virus cases rise
PHOENIX (AP) — Several Arizona teachers voiced fears from their cars Wednesday about returning to school in a state that continues to be ravaged by the coronavirus.
Nearly 20 cars with painted messages like #Return2SchoolSafely traveled in a short procession in central Phoenix. It was one of six “motor marches” organized by members of the Arizona #RedforEd group calling on Gov. Doug Ducey to close schools until case numbers trend downward. Currently, public schools are ordered to delay the start of the classes at least until Aug. 17.
“Sure he pushed it back,” said Chico Robinson, one of the march coordinators and a social studies teacher. “But let’s be honest —we’re seeing numbers of 4,000, we’ve seen a 5,000 number. That’s nowhere safe to return our students and definitely not our educators.”
State health officials reported Wednesday an additional 3,257 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 97 deaths. The total number of cases now stands at 131,354 with 2,434 deaths. However, the number of cases could be far higher because many people have not been tested, and some can be infected without feeling sick.
Arizona leads the U.S. in new confirmed cases per capita over the past two weeks.
Hospitalizations and ventilator use also remain relatively high with ICU bed capacity around 90%.
In metro Phoenix, most school districts announced plans to begin with distance learning until a fall break. Beyond that, it varies district to district. Some intend to offer a hybrid of remote classes and in-person instruction. Others will allow students to do only in-person or only online learning.
“It’s very confusing,” said Raquel Mamani, a longtime substitute teacher. “We don’t understand why school districts and some teachers feel like we have to go back.”
The Tucson Unified School District plan will also have students learn remotely at least initially when schools restart, either at home or in classrooms. Under the plan presented to the district board Tuesday, there would be monitors in classrooms but some teachers might be elsewhere on campus or working from home, the Arizona Daily Star reported.
“I want to assure you that this mode of instruction won’t be forever,” Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Flori Huitt told the board. “We are adapting to the current circumstances.”
The recent death of a teacher in Gila County weighs heavily on the minds of many of these teachers. Kimberley Chavez Lopez Byrd, 61, died last month of complications related to COVID-19. The elementary school teacher and two other teachers sharing a classroom while giving virtual lessons all became ill.
“They were all extremely cautious about the safety and yet they still got it,” Robinson said. “We have an educator that’s not with us anymore. That would be the narrative if any district went back.”
In other news developments: — The Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office said it has gotten four large portable storage coolers capable of holding a total of 60 bodies in the event the county gets hit with a surge of coronavirus cases. The county’s morgue was 78% full on Wednesday, due in large part to metro Phoenix’s annual wave of heat-related deaths.
__ Vizient Inc., an Irving, Texas, health care company, will provide nearly 600 nurses to fill staffing voids at Arizona hospitals, health officials said. Hospitals can obtain additional personnel for free from the state for up to six weeks.
—A federal judge has rejected Xponential Fitness’ challenge to Ducey’s order shutting down gyms, bars and water parks until at least July 27.
U.S. District Judge Diane Humetewa’s ruling late Tuesday said Ducey hadn’t broken the law and that allowing gyms to operate could increase the risk of transmission of COVID-19. The chain operates 50 fitness studios in Arizona. Ducey’s office said his shutdown of gyms was based on advice from medical experts amid the current spike in cases. ____ Associated Press writer Paul Davenport contributed to this report.