PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - From virtual learning to in-person learning, now to Covid outbreaks happening at dramatic rate, students in Arizona have been through it all. “We all know the past year and a half was probably the most challenging of these students lives,” said State Superintendent of Public Schools Kathy Hoffman. She is speaking out after a new report by Maricopa County Health on the number of Covid cases that are on the rise. 

There are currently 166 schools in the county with active outbreaks. “That is something that we’ve never seen before,” said Maricopa County Health Director Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine. “The likelihood that schools that do not have a mask requirements are twice as likely to have an outbreak than schools that do have a mask requirement,” said  Dr. Sunenshine.

It’s important to note the county health department defines an outbreak as two or more cases on campus within a two week period. In addition, the county's report showed that one in four COVID-cases are among children,

Superintendent Hoffman said she believes the limits being placed on school districts restricting mitigation strategies are to blame. "It’s not new information to me the AZ Department of Health and all of our county health departments have been recommending masking as a way to stop the spread of Covid-19 since it is transmitted through the air, it’s become too political,” said Hoffman.

“Just a few weeks into the 2021-2022 school year, I am highly concerned about yet another school year disrupted by COVID-19. All summer, our schools prepared to welcome back their students after a difficult year marked by instability and loss. Now, because of decisions made by politicians, not public health experts, Arizona is facing another deadly surge of COVID-19 fueled by the more contagious Delta variant,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman. Without the ability to mandate masks at a local level or a more robust and effective statewide campaign to promote and distribute COVID-19 vaccines, the academic, social, and emotional well-being of Arizona’s students are in jeopardy. If we proudly call Arizona home, then we have a responsibility to step up and do all we can to slow the spread of COVID-19 before it further impacts the education and health of our students.”

Governor Doug Ducey has said he is anti-mandate but pro-parental decision on masks. Meanwhile, Hoffman says the department is focusing on putting federal relief money to use. “School counselors social workers, we are  investing in a program with ASU called math momentum to really strategically target math skills,” said Hoffman.

“We all had hoped that the COVID-19 risk would be eliminated by now. Unfortunately, stalled vaccination rates and the high prevalence of the more contagious Delta variant in Arizona mean that there is still a substantial risk of COVID-19 infection in our state. In fact, an alarming increase in the proportion of cases and hospitalizations are occurring in young adults and children,” said Arizona Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics President, Dr. Jason Vargas. “To protect our children and their families, AzAAP recommends that all students and school staff wear face masks indoors. Universal masking in the school setting has been shown to greatly reduce the risk of COVID-19 so that schools can safely deliver face-to-face education for children and adults, even when social distancing is difficult.”

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