PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - With worsening COVID-19 rates in Arizona (the state positivity rate is currently 9%), parents and teachers have expressed concern over what to do with schools -- when and whether to close them again. Monday afternoon health and education leaders announced a campaign to keep students safe from the virus without necessarily having to close schools.
It's called 'Healthy Kids, Open Schools,' but some of the parents watching the meeting online say they were hoping for more action from the state.
Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman expressed concern over both the surge in cases and the isolation kids feel when they're away from their teachers and friends.
School districts in the Phoenix-area are starting to alter in-person learning plans as COVID-19 cases grow in Maricopa County.
"When our schools close to in-person instruction, it is devastating to our communities," she said. "Without serious changes from us, the adults making daily choices determining the virus' path, we cannot expect these numbers to head in a safe direction. The more we ignore the virus, the less stability we provide our students and families."
Monday's conference also addressed what Hoffman called twin crises -- the virus itself and youth suicide. In 2019, there were 38 suicides in Arizona among those under age 17. This year, there have already been 43.
"It shows that we have a critical need for coping strategies and access to mental health services for our youth," said Dr. Cara Christ, director of Arizona Department of Health Services.
The 'Healthy Kids, Open Schools' campaign is meant to help parents know when to keep their kids home from class, and urge them to report symptoms and test results to the schools. Christ and Hoffman called on masks to be worn during all school activities, including sports and bus rides. But Linda Eddens, who has four kids from 4th through 11th grades, didn't come away with much from the meeting.
"It was nothing that we didn't already know or that hasn't been discussed for the past eight months," she said.
The state still says schools do need to plan on going virtual if all 3 benchmarks hit the 'red' category. Eddens was hoping they'd set a specific cutoff based on student cases within a certain school.
Some health experts say the new metric is subjective and often inaccurate.
"Last week we got [a letter about student COVID cases] 3 days out of the week. Today's Monday and I got one saying 7 kids," she said.
While schools are trying to stay open in the safest possible way, Eddens is already worried about what to do next semester.
Christ also talked about surveillance testing. "That would offer free, weekly, routine surveillance testing for teachers. We're working with ASU on implementing that," she said.