PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5/AP) – Arizona’s coronavirus outbreak has eased to the point where it is safe for two largely rural counties to reopen schools for partial in-person learning, state health officials said Thursday.

covid classroom

The state's benchmarks say districts should not reopen schools until they have "minimal community spread." 

Every one of Arizona’s 15 counties is meeting at least one of the three benchmarks for reopening schools set by the Arizona Department of Health Services for reopening schools. According to the department, two counties – Apache and Yavapai -- are meeting all three benchmarks. The Department of Health Services said it made an error when it first posted the data Thursday and incorrectly included Cochise and Coconino counties as meeting the benchmarks. They do not, the department said later. Maricopa County, home to the largest chunk of Arizona’s population, is meeting two benchmarks but is coming short in the percent positivity category.

Arizona health officials issue guidelines for safe return to in-person learning

AZDHS on Thursday published a chart that explains the three benchmarks and shows where each county stands. Arizona's Family mapped it out.

Percent positivity seems to be the toughest benchmark to hit. Only five counties have done it. The means two-thirds of state have not.

Pima County is the only one that's meeting just one benchmark -- COVID-like illness (CLI). 

The benchmarks AZDHS put together are guidelines rather than a mandate for school districts.

Gov. Doug Ducey said Thursday that the state’s data on percentages of positive tests, hospital visits for virus-like illnesses and hospital capacity continues to trend down, but now is not the time to ease up on restrictions that include local mask ordinances, social distancing, limits on large gatherings and bar and nightclub closures.

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“This is all good data that’s good reason for people to be hopeful and optimistic about the future,” Ducey said. “At the same time, we want to remain cautious and keep doing what’s working. Keep applying these steps.”

Arizona became a national hotspot in June and July, with new infections rampant, hospitals nearing capacity and deaths soaring.

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The sharp rise in cases started about two weeks after Ducey allowed stay-at-home orders to expire on May 15, and bars, nightclubs and other large venues became packed with patrons.

In mid-June, Ducey relented and allowed local governments to require people to wear masks in public. On June 29, he ordered bars, nightclubs and water parks to close as daily case counts neared 5,000 a day.

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