Arizona schools grapple with COVID-19 outbreaks in the early days of the fall semester, and more than 150 doctors have signed letter praising schools that have defied state law banning warrants mask and urge Governor Doug Ducey to change his mind about the law.
â€œHonestly, I can’t believe we’re here again,â€ Scottsdale family doctor Dr. Susan Hughes said at a Capitol press conference after trying to deliver the letter to Ducey.
Hughes hand-delivered the letter with Dr. Jacqueline Carter, internist and pediatrician at Tempe. She delivered a similar letter in June 2020 urging Ducey to allow towns, villages and counties to institute their own mask mandates; this letter has been signed by over 3,000 physicians.
The day after this letter was delivered, Ducey authorized cities and counties to institute mask warrants.
“This is not the first time that we have been here to ask the governor to do the right thing,” Hughes told the Arizona mirror.
Signatures for the new letter were collected within 72 hours, and Hughes said that was part of the reason there were fewer people signing up than last time – this, and they’re busy with more and more patients filling Arizona hospital beds every day. .
Arizona currently has an average of 2,209 COVID-19 cases per day, up 81% from two weeks ago.
Hughes and Carter delivered the letter to a member of Ducey’s staff. Ducey’s office did not respond to questions about his intention to meet with the doctors.
As medics waited in the lobby of the Capitol to deliver the letter, the unmasked Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, walked by.
â€œHello Dr Christ! Hughes and Carter said enthusiastically. Christ waved to her as she entered the elevator in the Executive Tower and waved back to her with a smile.
The letter comes as schools reopen for in-person learning for the first time since the start of the pandemic and the Arizona legislature passed new legislation banning schools from requiring the use of masks.
Several schools and school districts have already defied the law, which will not come into effect until September of this year. Some schools in the state have already canceled classes or sent students home due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
Data on the impact of COVID-19 on the state’s children is not entirely clear, but American Academy of Pediatrics estimates shows Arizona leads the way in pediatric deaths, hospitalizations and cases.
Many states, including Arizona, separate their case data into roughly six age groups: 0 to 19, 20 to 44, 45 to 54, 55 to 64, 65 and over, and unknown.
â€œFor us pediatricians, it would be helpful to know how many two-year-olds or school-aged children are getting COVID, especially with the Delta variant coming up,â€ said Dr. Mary Ellen Rimsza with the Arizona Chapter of the AAP told the Shimmering.
Arizona ranked first for the number of hospitalizations in the 0-19 category for the country, eighth for the total number of hospitalizations and second for the highest number of deaths.
More than 157,000 Arizona residents between the ages of 0 and 19 have contracted the virus and there have been 34 deaths in the same age group. Of these 157,000, more than 2,300 had to be hospitalized. About 16% of all COVID cases in the state fall in this age group.
â€œWe are now seeing more children requiring hospitalization,â€ Rimsza said, adding that children currently represent a small percentage of hospitalizations, but pediatricians are concerned that with the Delta variant that may change.
A study by a group of British scientists found that the Delta variant is 225% more transmissible than the original strain of SARS-COV-2 that triggered the global pandemic in early 2020. Another recent study by Chinese researchers from the Guangdong Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that people infected with the Delta variant had 1,000 times more copies of the infection in their lungs than those infected with the original virus.
Transmission of the new variant only takes a few seconds if a person is not careful.
Carter and Hughes are also concerned about the long-term impacts the Delta variant could have on children who contract the virus. Although young children appear not to be at risk for long-haul symptomsCarter said older teens appear to experience COVID-19 the same way adults do.
It worries doctors that school districts will not be allowed to require the use of masks by students, teachers, staff and visitors. This ban on mask mandates was inserted into the annual budget to secure votes from anti-mask Republicans who said they would not vote for the spending package – including the historic tax cuts Ducey championed – unless the state prohibits schools from requiring masks.
â€œOur children are safer in the classroom with mitigation measures,â€ Carter said at Thursday’s press conference. â€œ(The) ban on masking means that no school can provide a safe learning environment. ”
Carter, Hughes, and Rimsza all gave parents similar advice: send your students to school with a mask on and, if they’re over 12, get them vaccinated.
“The children have tolerated the vaccine so far, we just need to get more vaccinated,” Rimsza said. “We all want them to stay in school, but stay in school safely.”