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Pima County schools facing tougher test controlling COVID spread

Chief medical officer says mask mandates making impact
Children wearing masks play on a playground.
Posted at 6:09 PM, Aug 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-31 21:40:07-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Three weeks into the new school year, Pima County school leaders are trying to protect their students from growing COVID outbreaks.

Dr. Francisco Garcia, Pima County’s chief medical officer, says a number of factors are making that a tougher test now compared to this spring.

“Many more children in the classroom, a very highly-transmissible variant and a population of very vulnerable children, that is, children that are not vaccine age-eligible,” Garcia said Tuesday.

The Delta variant is fueling those cases and Arizona’s contentious debate over school mask mandates. Pima County is letting school districts make their own choice when it comes to potential mandates.

“They know their children and their families and their community the best, and that’s part of the reason why we defer to them,” Garcia said.

Amphi, Catalina Foothills, Marana, Sunnyside and Tucson Unified School Districts have imposed mask mandates. Garcia says they are now seeing an impact.

“Those are the school districts that right now are having a lower infection rate,” he said. “Numerically, may have a lot of cases, but proportionately are having a smaller percentage of cases. So we do believe that mask mandates in schools actually have an impact. And it’s a really important and critical tool that our school districts and our schools have to be able to keep children and families safe.”

Despite the COVID spread in Pima County schools, Garcia says local hospitals currently have only six pediatric COVID patients, which he calls a “modest” number.

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