Saturday, August 21, 2021
Students in the Marana School District joined a growing number of classrooms across the state in wearing masks when indoors.
The Marana Unified School District governing board voted 3-2 at a special meeting on Friday to require universal use of masks when indoors on school property and district buses.
The mask requirement starts Monday and will continue until Sept. 29, when a new state law banning mask requirements goes into effect. Masks will remain optional outdoors and exemptions will be provided for medical, religious and specific instructional reasons.
The board considered the mask mandate after Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Randall Warner ruled in favor of Phoenix Union High School District, stating the district did not violate state law with its mask mandate, because the law prohibiting schools from mandating masks does not go into effect until Sept 29, 90 days after the legislative session adjourns.
Marana followed the Sunnyside Unified School District, when its board passed the mask requirement on Thursday, and several other districts, including Tucson Unified, Catalina Foothills, Amphitheater and Flowing Wells.
As of Friday, Marana had the second-highest number of cases reported since July 20 with 184, according to data from the Pima County Health Department. The Vail School District, which does not require masks, tops the list with 186 since July 20.
Vail began the school year earlier than other districts. Its governing board voted to make masks optional at their June 8 meeting and has not revisited that decision. The number of COVID-19 cases has dropped from the peak of 69 cases reported as of Aug. 1 to 35 cases reported between Aug. 6 and Aug. 15.
Marana Unified governing board member Tom Carlson, who opposed the motion along with Dan Post, said he was told by Superintendent Dan Streeter that the district may be over-reporting COVID-19 cases by 40%, because they report cases contracted outside of the school environment. He believes this would put them on par with the Amphitheater Unified School District, which had 67 active cases of COVID-19 as of Friday.
Pima County Health Department Director Dr. Theresa Cullen has said some school cases are contracted in the community, not in the classroom. The standing order for the health department published on Aug. 17 requires that schools report all positive cases to the department and the health department does not specify where they were contracted. Marana reported 153 active cases on Friday. They will update the dashboard in about a week, said district spokesperson Alli Benjamin.
The Tucson Unified School District governing board voted to require masks on Aug. 5, before the ruling on mask mandates. The district reported 142 cases since July 20 and, as of Aug 20, had 63 active cases.
Catalina Foothills and Flowing Wells announced they would implement mask requirements this week, but reported fewer cases since July 20, with 11 and 22 cases respectively as of Aug. 20. They are the only two school districts that have required masks despite relatively low numbers.
As of Friday, the Sunnyside and Amphitheater school districts reported 92 and 65 cases since July 20.
Dr. Joe Gerald, an epidemiologist who has tracked COVID’s transmission since it first arrived in March 2020, noted that in the week ending Aug. 15, children accounted for roughly one-fourth of all COVID cases and for the first time, the rates of cases among children aged 5 to 9 and aged 10 to 14 surpassed those of all other age groups. Gerald said he expected more outbreaks in schools, especially those that don't follow strict mitigation protocols.
“Resumption of in-person instruction in the face of high community transmission, low vaccination rates, prohibition of universal masking, lack of surveillance testing, and minimal physical distancing is leading to frequent school-related outbreaks and has the potential to accelerate community transmission,” Gerald wrote in his weekly update on the spread of the virus. “On a positive note, several K-12 and university systems are challenging the governor’s prohibition of mask mandates.”