Public school student absentee rates rise amid virus surge in Arizona

PHOENIX - Higher than normal student absentee rates were reported Wednesday in metro Phoenix, where many school districts resumed classes even as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surged across Arizona.

Officials with the Cartwright Elementary School District that oversees 21 K-8 schools with nearly 15,000 children in greater Phoenix said they recorded 3,051 students absent Monday, 2,319 on Tuesday and 2,256 on Wednesday.

That compared with about 1,600 absences on both the first day of fall and the last day of school in December, said Veronica Sanchez, the district’s director of public relations. She said teacher absences were also up, but didn't have exact figures.

The district mandates the use of masks and provides rapid COVID-19 tests at a centralized location.

Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday took what he called “preemptive action” to keep school public schools open and give students access to in-person instruction despite rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in Arizona and nationwide. The new program would give private school vouchers to parents of students whose schools close or move to remote learning.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Arizona increased on Wednesday for the fourth straight day and the state's seven-day rolling averages for virus cases and deaths both rose over the previous two weeks.

There were 2,555 COVID-19 patients occupying hospital inpatient beds statewide as of Tuesday, up from 2,283 on Saturday, according to the state's coronavirus dashboard.

The dashboard on Wednesday showed 61 additional COVID-19 deaths and 7,749 additional confirmed cases, increasing the state's pandemic totals to 24,570 deaths and 1,419,562 cases.

The state's rolling average of daily deaths rose from 71.3 on Dec. 20 to 75.3 on Monday while the rolling average of daily new cases more than doubled from 2,947 to 7,017.1 during the same period, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Arizona has the fourth-highest COVID-19 death rate among U.S. states, with 334 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other virus-related developments:

– The Havasupai Tribe in northern Arizona said it will keep tourists from visiting its reservation deep in a gorge off the Grand Canyon until at least June now because of the pandemic. The reservation is renowned for its blue-green waterfalls that draw tourists from around the world. It has been closed to visitors since March 2020.

– Flagstaff Mayor Paul Deasy announced Wednesday morning on Twitter that he had tested positive for COVID-19. The Arizona Daily Sun reported that in light of the announcement, Deasy’s attendance of Tuesday night’s city council meeting earned rebuffs from other councilmembers. "There was no reason for me to believe that yesterday I was positive,” Deasy said. “I took an at-home test that was negative before entering council (chambers). I take tests a couple times a week to ensure that, and I was asymptomatic. So I’m pretty confused as to why there would be folks thinking I was knowingly positive. That’s pretty ridiculous.”

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