Article: Despite COVID-19 cases surge, virus spread in Tucson schools remains low

Despite COVID-19 cases surge, virus spread in Tucson schools remains low

Despite nearly 1,000 known cases of COVID-19 in Tucson-area schools, local Health Department officials continue to recommend classrooms stay open because the transmission rate on K-12 campuses continues to be much lower than the community as a whole.

The transmission rate inside schools is about 2.8%, according to county data. The number of cases in schools is growing — from 924 to 997 over just three days this week — but the vast majority of them are being contracted outside of schools.

When the Pima County Health Department recommended schools open for hybrid in-person learning at the end of September, COVID-19 numbers were improving. Today, many of the public-health data points are back in the red, including the number of coronavirus cases in the community, the percentage of tests coming back positive and the diminishing hospital capacity.

But mitigation in schools seems to be working. Requiring masks, social-distancing and contact tracing to help fight the spread of the virus is in large part keeping COVID-19 outbreaks out of schools, says Brian Eller, the county Health Department’s school liaison.

“Evidence is showing that in-school transmission is really low, primarily because of the mitigation that schools are enacting at their sites,” he says. “When they’re choosing to wear masks, when they’re choosing to socially distance at their sites, it’s going to have the natural consequence of reduced rates of transmission. So that factor is a huge reason for why we’re saying that we want to support hybrid.”

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