PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona is experiencing another significant leap in new COVID-19 infections, with more than 2,800 reported on Friday. The number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations also continued to climb, and stood at 1,309 patients.
The state Department of Health Services’ dashboard showed 2,826 new confirmed cases and 42 deaths. The latest figures bring Arizona’s pandemic totals to 940,762 cases and 18,342 deaths.
J.O. Combs Unified School District in the San Tan Valley near the Phoenix suburb of Chandler announced that fifth and sixth-graders at one school will learn remotely next week because of multiple positive cases. According to the district’s dashboard, Ellsworth Elementary has 53 active coronavirus cases.
Public health experts have said that the highly transmissible delta variant is primarily driving case surges across the U.S.
The increase in infections is fueling intense debate over Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s ban on mask mandates in schools.
Ducey this summer signed legislation that bans schools from requiring children to wear masks. The ban does not take effect until late September, but lawmakers declared it retroactive.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics have recommended that everyone wear masks to schools in communities with substantial or high transmission of the virus.
Since most Arizona students returned to schools this week, eight districts have made wearing masks indoors mandatory, in defiance of the law. All of them except for Tucson Unified are in the Phoenix area. One of the mandates prompted a lawsuit from a Phoenix biology teacher.
Ducey’s office has said the mandates are not enforceable and that wearing a mask is a personal choice.
More than 150 Arizona doctors on Thursday criticized the governor’s response, sending a letter urging Ducey to mandate masks in public schools.
Over the past week, leaders at some of the state’s major hospital systems warned that the state’s hospitals could be on the verge of having to deal with another brutal infection surge. The health care leaders also said most new patients were younger, unvaccinated people.
Brophy College Preparatory, a private, all-boys high school in Phoenix, will require everyone regardless of their vaccine status to wear masks indoors when classes start on Monday.
Masks will be optional starting Sept. 13. But that’s when students and staff must be vaccinated or face weekly testing, according to a letter from the principal.
Any students who want to participate in overnight retreats or school-related travel must show proof of vaccination. The Catholic, Jesuit high school, which counts Ducey’s two sons as alumni, is not required to follow the state law.
Nationwide the thinking has been split, with some states banning mask mandates in public schools and others requiring it. Some state officials are simply allowing many local school district officials to make the decisions, but many of them are exhausted by months of conflict over the matter.
More than 6.9 million vaccine doses have now been administered in Arizona.
Over 3.8 million people — or 53% of the eligible population — have received at least one dose. More than 3.3 million are fully vaccinated.