Kathy Hoffman

File photo of Kathy Hoffman.

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - The head of Arizona schools is hoping for business as usual for the most part for students, teachers and staff at state schools.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said during a phone call with school superintendents statewide on Thursday afternoon she is recommending schools remain open for the time being, despite fears of the coronavirus spreading. She also added that she's not recommending canceling athletic events either. Hoffman added the Arizona Department of Education will not be closing schools; it'll be up to the districts to make that decision.

Assistant director at the state Department of Health Services Jessica Rigler said the COVID-19 virus doesn’t affect children in the same way as older adults, who can get severe cases. Schools provide lots of other services, like free and reduced price lunches, stability for children, and in some cases a stable adult who the child may not have at home.

Some districts have already decided to close. On Thursday, Alhambra Elementary District said it's closing schools as of Monday, March 16 until further notice. Pima Unified School District in rural southeastern Arizona closed after a report that an unspecified number of elementary school students were possibly exposed to to an unknown illness.

Larger public health challenges are also dictating the decision, she said.

“When you close down school, unless parents are able to stay home with their children, which takes them out of the work force, those children are just cohorted somewhere else together because they need child care,” Rigler said. “So they’re either clustered together in school or clustered in other locations. So its not necessarily breaking that transmission cycle.”

State officials are encouraging keeping schools clean, recommending frequent washing of hands and sending students and staff home if they are sick.

As of Thursday evening, there are nine cases of coronavirus in Arizona, with two of them confirmed with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are three cases in Maricopa County, five in Pinal County and one in Pima County.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 60,000 have so far recovered.

In other developments, leaders of the state Legislature announced Thursday that they would bar the public from most areas of the Capitol, including visitor galleries and hearing rooms. House Speaker Rusty Bowers said in a memo to staff that the Legislature was banning school field trips, a daily event during the session, and visits by dignitaries.

The memo urged lawmakers and staff to avoid in-person meetings and said older or more vulnerable employees could work from home.

Members of the public who want to comment on legislation were urged to call or email their representatives or sign into the legislature’s “Request to Speak” system.

House lawmakers approved a measure that appropriates $55 million to the state’s public health emergency fund. The Senate needs to approve the new money before it heads to Ducey’s desk.

Lowell Observatory said it no longer would allow visitors to the popular tourist destination in Flagstaff until further notice. Organizers said they were cancelling an air show scheduled Friday and Saturday at the Marine Corps Air Station at Yuma.

Also, the Democratic National Committee announced it was moving Sunday’s presidential debate from Arizona to Washington, D.C., and the president of the Navajo Nation on Wednesday declared a public health state of emergency for the tribe’s reservation.

A big hit also will come from Major League Baseball’s decision to cancel remaining spring training games and delay the start of the regular season by at least two weeks.

Fifteen Major League teams hold spring training in Phoenix and its suburbs. In 2018, the games generated an estimated $644.2 million in economic, according to the Arizona Cactus League Association. The season was set to end next week, so most games have already been played.


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