Governor Ducey announces local school leaders will have the choice to return to in-school learning August 17

Jon Johnson File Photo: Safford High School will start its Fall session with distance learning.

Gyms, bars, nightclubs, water parks, and tubing closure indefinitely extended

By Jon Johnson

PHOENIX – During a press conference Thursday, Governor Doug Ducey announced that local school districts will have the say if they want to reopen to in-person learning Aug. 17, however, other business closures will continue.

After large increases for the state in June, Ducey showed the state’s numbers have begun to lower for July. On Thursday, however, he announced that the closure for gyms, bars, nightclubs, water parks, and tubing will be extended indefinitely.

Ducey ordered all schools to provide at least teacher-driven distance learning by the start of school and those schools who offer only remote learning must offer someplace for students to go during the school day. For schools opening up for in-person learning, they must comply with social distancing requirements and will include the use of face coverings.

“This is the greatest challenge to public education in our lifetimes and Arizona has the opportunity to lead the nation,” Ducey said. “And that’s Superintendent Hoffman and my goal, to make Arizona a model state in this situation providing the best learning experience to kids in the safest environment during this crisis.”

Ducey said to continue the downward trend, the closures must remain in place and encouraged people to continue to social distance, wash hands frequently, and wear masks in public when one cannot social distance.

“There’s no victory lap today,” Ducey said. “There’s no celebration.”

Several schools, including Safford, Morenci, and Fort Thomas, previously announced they will begin their school years with distance learning. Other schools, such as Thatcher and Pima, were hoping to start with in-person learning.  Ducey previously pushed back the reopening of schools to in-person learning to Aug. 17.   

State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman previously wrote a letter to Ducey advising he use public health data to determine reopening metrics, including a downward trajectory of new COVID-19 cases.

“Like all educators, I want students back in our classrooms because that’s the best place for learning and growing,” Hoffman wrote. “However, we cannot ask schools to make decisions that will impact their teachers’ and students’ health and safety without first providing them with the necessary public health data and funding to make safe decisions.”

During the press conference Thursday, Hoffman announced new health benchmarks for schools to reopen for in-person learning. Hoffman also announced the state would support schools that continue to offer distance learning and will offer them the ability to adapt to different teaching needs.

“Teaching and learning will happen no matter what the next school year looks like in your community,” Hoffman said.

President Trump previously advised that while the reopening of schools would be up to the individual state governors, he would like them to reopen for in-person education.

“I think most governors, many governors, want these schools to open,” Trump said. I would like to see the schools open – especially when you see statistics like this. We have great statistics on young people and on safety, so we would like to see schools open. We want to see the economy open.”

On Wednesday night, the Graham County Department of Health and Human Services reported an additional 12 positive COVID-19 tests for Graham County (five from Safford, five from San Carlos Apache Tribe, and two from Thatcher), bringing the total for the pandemic to 328 for the county.

Out of 2,355 tests, 2,027 were negative for the virus. The county lists 260 currently active cases, with 63 recovered cases, and five deaths.

The ages of Graham County’s cases include 49 under the age of 20, 129 who are between 20-44, 49 who are between 45-54, 34 who are between 55-64, and 67 who are 65 years old or older.  

Greenlee County

Greenlee County has been holding at 39 total cases for a while now. The county has the lowest transmission rate out of any of Arizona’s 15 counties.

The Greenlee County Health Department reports 762 tests administered as of Wednesday, with 588 negative results and 135 pending. The county also lists 26 active cases, with 12 recovered cases, and one death.

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