PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - As the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths dropped across Arizona, political and business leaders breathed a sigh of relief. It seemed as through the state had made it through the worst part of the COVID-19 storm, and just maybe, smoother sailing was ahead.
But public health officials were nervously eyeing two data points, and they were heading in the wrong direction. The number of cases of a newer, more contagious strain of the coronavirus was increasing. And the number of younger people, some as young as children, getting infected and becoming seriously ill was also on the rise.
“There are so many different things happening all at one time, at the same time, it’s hard to tease out what’s going on," said Heather Ross, Ph.D., who is a clinical assistant professor at ASU's Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation.
But Ross knew something was happening. “We should all be concerned about the numbers going up,” said Ross.
According to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has been tracking the number of kids with COVID-19 infections since the beginning of the pandemic, the number of children across the country with COVID-19 increased by nearly 80 thousand between April 15 and April 22. That amounted to 21% of all new cases.
In Arizona, the number of child COVID-19 infections rose by 2,236 that same week.
Meantime, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey rescinded his executive order, which had required students to wear masks in schools. Ducey claimed he was aligning with CDC guidance. But that was not correct. The CDC still recommends mask use in schools.
Now the state’s largest school district, Mesa Unified, as well as other districts and charter schools are making mask use “optional.”
"We're at a point right now where adults are being vaccinated, but we don't really have things in place for children," said Carrie English.
English lost her 12-year-old daughter in January to a rare inflammatory reaction that occurs in some children who have been exposed to COVID. It is called MIS-C. "In my daughter's case, she had absolutely no symptoms and was in our household with us," said English.
Elizabeth English had no pre-existing conditions. She was a healthy, young athletic cheerleader. "This entire community was rocked by my daughter's death. So many people were affected by it, because she was here on a Friday and gone on a Wednesday," said English.
Elizabeth is one of 29 children who have died in Arizona after catching COVID-19. Arizona ranks second, behind only Texas, for the number of child deaths.
"People who say it’s not that many kids need to look in the eyes of a parent who just buried a child and tell them it’s not that many kids," said Ross.