| Arizona Republic
Outbreaks of COVID-19 in Arizona schools, child care centers and shelters must now be reported to county health departments within 24 hours, the state Department of Health Services announced Monday.
The emergency order closes a loophole in the list of contagious diseases that facilities serving groups of children must report. COVID-19 now joins a list that includes measles, whooping cough and meningitis.
The order comes a week after The Arizona Republic reported on the omission, which could leave parents, staff and children at risk for lack of knowing whether the disease caused by the coronavirus has affected the facility where they leave their children or where they work.
The Republic reported Monday that after less than a week of in-person instruction, schools reported that students had been exposed to COVID-19.
Child care advocates cheered the order, saying it will provide transparency on an important public health issue.
“The reporting piece is great and what we needed,” Barbie Prinster, director of the Arizona Early Childhood Education Association, said of the order. It creates a level playing field and takes child care operators off of what to now had been an honor system for notifying clients and staff of COVID-19 cases.
Kelley Murphy of the Arizona Children’s Action Alliance, said it’s a benefit for kids’ health.
“It’s important to help assure that public health authorities can work closely with schools, child care programs and shelters to take the necessary precautions to keep children as safe as possible,” Murphy said.
By reporting, schools, centers and shelters get access to advice from public health officials working to curb the spread of the virus.
Since earlier this month, guidelines issued by state education and health officials said schools should report COVID-19 outbreaks to county health departments. But because the guidelines were optional for school districts, it wasn’t clear if anyone would notify health officials.
DHS Director Cara Christ said child-focused establishments have long worked with public health agencies to report communicable diseases. But as COVID-19 is a new disease, it was not on the list of required reports.
“This emergency measure addresses the serious threat COVID-19 poses to our communities and allows public health and our schools to work together to keep our kids safe,” Christ said.
State schools Superintendent Kathy Hoffman, who helped craft the school guidelines, added the order gives schools instructions on how to correctly report COVID-19 cases.
It was unclear if a single case triggers the mandatory report. Christ defined an “outbreak” as two cases that occur within 14 days and involve people who are “epidemiologically linked, do not share a household, and are not close contacts of each other in another setting.”
To read the emergency order, go to the DHS website at azdhs.gov and search for news releases.
About this report
An ongoing grant from the Arizona Community Foundation supports coverage of child-welfare issues. To keep up on the latest news about the foster care system, its response to COVID-19 and other topics, a subscription to The Arizona Republic helps support local journalism.
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