TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Classrooms across southern Arizona are empty as fall break begins this week. But school and health officials encourage students to continue following safety precautions to help avoid an outbreak of COVID-19 cases when they return to the classrooms.
According to Tucson Unified School District, safety precautions are still in place and classrooms will be sanitized throughout the break.
Pima County Health Department COVID School Liaison Brian Eller said as students congregate together outside of the school setting, it's less likely that they would wear their masks and adhere to social distancing.
"We really encourage people to know the community they’re with and be engaged to the community they’re with," he said. "We are definitely not saying don’t be around friends or family, it’s quite the opposite - we want that to be the case. We’re just saying that when you do, do it safely."
The school environment is different as students are back in the classrooms this year, but Eller said there is an increase in COVID-19 cases.
"We’ve seen an increase in outbreaks but that definitely has to do with the fact that we can’t enforce masking," he said. “We’ve had a total of 96 outbreaks throughout the year as opposed to 66 last year."
All positive cases are reported to the county health department and many schools like Marana and Tucson Unified make their case totals available to the public on their website.
Last week, Pfizer asked the Federal Drug Administration for approval of their vaccine for children between the ages of eight and 11. Eller said vaccines would help lessen the outbreaks in schools.
“The more people we can get vaccinated, and the more people can be exempt from quarantine and the more we will be able to keep kids in school," he said.
If it gets approved, those children can get the shot in a matter of weeks. Eller said the vaccine has mixed reviews among parents but many eligible students have already received the shot.
“In the 12-year-old age range we currently have about 10,000 kids vaccinated in our community,” he said.
While the schools are doing their part to maintain safety protocols, Eller said the key is keeping students safe and learning, especially as they come back to class next week.
“This is really for our community to get kids back in school,” he said.
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