The metrics give guidance at three levels—instruction in person is not recommended; hybrid instruction between online and in-person can happen; full in-person instruction can happen.
However, districts and charter schools independently can decide to reopen at any time.
The guidance focuses on three metrics:
- Cases per 100,000 people
- Percent positivity on testing
- Hospital visits due to COVID-19-like illnesses.
Each relies on two weeks of data to determine if a trend meets the criteria.
Benchmarks are classified into minimal, moderate, and substantial transmission categories as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and align with the Arizona Department of Education's Roadmap for Reopening Schools.
For initial reopening of a hybrid-based model with a combination of virtual and in-person learning, ADHS recommends, on a county-specific level, a two-week decline in weekly average cases or two weeks below 100 cases per 100,000 population; two weeks with positivity below 7%; and two weeks with less than 10% of hospital visits due to COVID-19-like illness.
To help schools and families track progress toward those benchmarks, ADHS will be posting weekly a school dashboard that indicates whether counties meet the recommended benchmarks for initial reopening of in-person learning in schools. Maricopa County, as of Aug. 6, met one of the three metrics with less than 100 cases per 100,000 individuals.
Health officials are recommending all three benchmarks fall into the moderate or minimal transmission ranges before schools in a county consider a hybrid approach of virtual and in-person learning. When one or more benchmark categories are in the range of substantial transmission, ADHS recommends virtual learning.
“While it is clear that Arizona is not currently ready to resume traditional in-person or hybrid learning, we now have clear goals for knowing when it is safer to return to the classroom amid COVID-19,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said in a release.
For a return to traditional in-person learning, the state recommends that the three metrics show evidence of minimal community spread: a two-week decline in weekly average cases or two weeks below 10 cases per 100,000 population; two weeks with positivity below 5%; and two weeks with less than 5% of hospital visits due to COVID-19-like illness.
“Our focus is ensuring that Arizona students and teachers have a safe and successful academic year, even though it may look different because of the ongoing pandemic,” Gov. Doug Ducey said in the release. “We know the critical services that in-person instruction provides for our children. These benchmarks use public health data guided by recommendations from county, state, and federal experts to inform our schools on implementing a safe return to the classroom.
In addition, ADHS has developed materials offering schools guidance on subjects such as what to do when someone is found to have COVID-19 symptoms. For children, materials include instructions on wearing masks, washing hands, physical distancing, and understanding COVID-19 symptoms.
The agency has also partnered with Embry Women’s Health and several Valley school districts to offer no cost testing for students, staff, their families, and the community. ADHS will continue to expand community testing throughout the state, according to a news release.
Maricopa County is expected to release its own dashboard with for reopening schools in the coming week.