Flu prevention concept. Medical face mask on grey background top view copy space

As state and local school officials last week expressed concern over the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Arizona, someone anonymously advised Chandler Unified parents not to tell the district if their child contracts the virus.

The misguided and somewhat illiterate snapchat message said, “I’m asking this on behalf of all athletes at Basha. Please for the love of god if you get covid or have symptoms don’t report it because if you report it it skrews  everyone around you.”

It added, “Unless you are high risk there is no reason to report it, nothing bad will happen to you just please think about the athletes.” 

The post came in the wake of the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s decision to indefinitely delay the start of the winter sports season.

It also comes as virus cases in CUSD and Gilbert Public Schools are rising, according to county health department data posted on Nov. 12.

The data – 12 days old by the time it is posted on Thursday mornings – show increases between the weeks of Oct. 25 and Nov. 1 in the metrics for two of the three benchmarks that school districts monitor.

 In Gilbert Public Schools, COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people remained in the category for significant virus spread, rising from 144 to 154, while positive test results went up in the moderate-spread category from 6.5 to 7.03 percent.

Higley Unified remained in the significant-spread category for cases per 100,000, although the number dropped slightly from 149.7 to 152.2. Positive test results in the district dropped from 7.93 percent to 7.3 – the moderate-spread level.

Chandler Unified recorded the highest increase in both categories, going from 111.6 cases per 100,000 to 147.7 while positive test results rose from 5.3 percent to 7.5.

Queen Creek School District’s cases per 100,000 are the area’s highest, at 224.7 – up from 158.5 while positive test results rose from the minimum level of 3.8 percent to the moderate-spread level of 5.5 percent.

Chandler Unified spokesman Terry Locke said that even before the snapchat posting, the district had emailed parents on Nov. 6, advising them not to let their guard down.

“Students and parents understand and are committed to comply with the mitigation strategies,” the advisory said. 

“There are exceptions where individuals have overlooked mitigation strategies, thereby placing at-risk the health of students, staff and community members as well as continued in-person learning. Students have been sent to school with symptoms or while awaiting test results.”

It also advised, “Students have attended gatherings outside of school, contracted the virus, and then returned to school exposing their classmates. These situations are avoidable. The pandemic has presented us with so many factors outside of our control. We need 100 percent cooperation to influence what we can control.”

Last week state Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman held a news conference with several superintendents and state health director Dr. Cara Christ about the pandemic’s continuing impact on schools.

Hoffman said that a new spike in COVID-19 will force local schools into the “impossible decision’’ of whether to shut their doors to in-person learning to prevent students and teachers from getting sick.

“Without serious changes from us, the adults making daily choices that determine the virus’ path, we cannot expect these numbers to head in a safe direction,’’ Hoffman said.

But Christ, while making multiple suggestions for dealing with the spread of the disease, said she’s not prepared to recommend new restrictions on individual and business activities.

“We continue to monitor the data on a daily basis,’’ she said. 

And the health chief said some “mitigation strategies’’ are being discussed should counties, now considered at “moderate’’ risk of spread of the virus, move back into the “substantial’’ category they were at earlier this year.

“We would work with the local health departments to identify what strategies we could implement,’’ Christ said. But she stressed there would be no universal model.

Christ detailed how the state is now approaching 260,000 confirmed cases of the virus – including a positive test result percentage that is close to double digits.

She also expressed concern about rising suicide rates among young people in Arizona as they struggle with the pandemic’s disruptive impact on their academic and personal lives.

Hoffman said she is concerned about the impact of another major round of campus closures.

“When our schools close to in-person instruction, it is devastating to our communities,’’ she said.

“Parents are thrown in flux as they try to decide the best model for distance learning, whether at home or at an on-site learning center,’’ Hoffman continued. “Educators must adapt quickly, transitioning from in-person and hybrid to distance learning.

Christ said her and Hoffman’s department are setting up a pilot program for free weekly testing of teachers.

But John Carruth, superintendent of the Vail Unified School District, said what is happening in the classroom is not the problem.

“Both our experience and what I think our Pima County data are showing is that transmission is happening in the community and not within our schools, which is encouraging,’’ he said.

 Christ does have some answers to that, specifically with recommendations for what families should be doing this Thanksgiving to prevent these traditional family gatherings from turning into spreader events.

It starts, she said, with moving celebrations outside or a local park.

If that can’t happen, Christ said “create spaces’’ indoors so people can distance from one another, open doors and windows for better ventilation, and reduce the number of people gathered around the table.

“And consider celebrating virtually with your college-age students or your higher-risk and elderly relatives,’’ she said.

Meanwhile, Gov. Doug Ducey Governor Doug Ducey, announced last week that he and Hoffman will be making grants available from a pool of $19 million of the state’s federal pandemic relief funds to support schools and students most affected by the pandemic.

The grants will help fund teacher development and stipends, reading and math curriculum, summer education resources and other activities.