COVID-19 in Arizona: Schools and youth sports to reopen; death toll at 857

PHOENIX – Arizona schools will reopen this fall, and youth sports will return this summer, Gov. Doug Ducey told reporters Thursday. The move comes despite the fact Arizona remains in phase one of federal guidelines for reopening.

Although different schools will have different needs and reopen dates, Ducey said, “we can tailor guidance to meet the needs of the specific school districts and the situation that we still have in the state of Arizona.”

K-12 public schools are expected to reopen for the fall with new social distancing and public health safety guidance, he said. These will include school districts, such as Chandler, that hope to open as early as July and summer schools planning to open this week.

“They provide a lot more services than just education,” Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said in the news conference Thursday. “We know based on our experience with the child care programs that are open that there are responsible ways you can do this, and we need kids back in the classroom.”

More details on the fall reopening of schools will be announced next Monday, June 1, by schools superintendent Kathy Hoffman, officials said Thursday.

The governor also said organized youth activities are set to resume, with guidance. Youth activity organizers, coaches and parents are encouraged to remain 6 feet apart, wear masks “when possible” and enact sanitation protocol for any equipment in use.

As of Thursday, May 28, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 17,763 cases of COVID-19 and 857 deaths in the state. It said 287,605 tests for COVID-19 have been completed as of May 28 in public and private labs in Arizona, and 5.5% of tests have come back positive for the virus. Less than 4% of the state’s population of 7.2 million have been tested.

Governor distributes a fraction of COVID-19 relief

Two weeks after the Pinal County Board of Supervisors voted to sue Ducey to demand he distribute COVID-19 relief money, the governor on Wednesday released one-fourth of money from the federal CARES Act , according to an earlier Cronkite News article.

Ducey announced that he is allocating $441 million of the $1.9 billion of federal COVID-19 relief money. Some of that money is being withheld from local communities because “there are going to be needs that are yet unforeseen at the state level,” Ducey said, adding that the board dropped the lawsuit late Wednesday evening.

In a news conference Thursday, several Arizona mayors criticized Ducey’s withholding of relief money.

“COVID-19 didn’t stop at the city limits of smaller cities and towns,” Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans said. “We pay taxes in rural Arizona just like everyone else, and we need assistance.”

Judge to decide on release of nursing home records

Facing pressure from advocates, Judge Christopher Coury of Maricopa County Superior Court said he plans to rule on whether the Arizona Department of Health Services will be required to release public records from nursing homes by Friday, according to the Arizona Republic. The ADHS has gathered records from almost 150 nursing homes within the state regarding COVID-19 cases. State Attorney Craig Morgan said the records are private and do not need to be disclosed under Arizona’s Public Records Law. Attorney David Bodney, representing the Republic and other Arizona news organizations, said the documents should be released because there are 50 years of legal precedent.

Navajo Nation issues another weekend lockdown

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said Thursday that the curve is flattening, but he wants tribal members to continue staying home. Another 57-hour weekend lockdown will begin at 8 p.m. Friday and end at 5 a.m. Monday. This will be Navajo Nation’s eighth weekend lockdown, which includes the closing of most businesses. “We are overcoming this pandemic, but the war on this monster called COVID-19 is not over,” Nez said in a press release Wednesday.

Arizona ranks 23rd in latest number of unemployment claims

With more than 40 million Americans temporarily or permanently out of a job, Arizona ranked 23rd in unemployment claims for the week beginning May 18, the most recent data available. Overall, Arizona ranks 44th, and since March 16, unemployment claims have increased by 1,322.27%, according to a WalletHub data comparison.

Social distancing during Eid al-Fitr

Arizona Muslims found new ways to celebrate Eid al-Fitr safely, with prayer rugs 6 feet apart and car parades. With most mosques in the state closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Muslims were encouraged to find safe ways to celebrate the end of Ramadan, according to Cronkite News. “I thought it was a great way to put our community in the Eid spirit, because the mosques weren’t open for Eid prayer,” Leena Tohaibeche of Tempe told Cronkite News.

How to help

More than 30 Allstate agency owners in metro Phoenix launched a virtual food drive for the St. Mary’s Food Bank to ease food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic. The food drive is set to run through the end of May, and every $1 donated will provide seven meals to community members. To donate now, visit the St. Mary’s Food Bank fundraising page.

News Reporter, Los Angeles

Hannah Foote is an Arizona native who expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minors in justice studies and ethnic studies. Foote, who primarily is a digital reporter, also has reported for The State Press and the Downtown Devil.