Gov. Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman announced Sunday all public schools will be closed until March 27.
“As more schools announce closures and education administrators express staff shortages within their schools, now is the time to act,” Ducey said in a statement. “A statewide closure is the right thing to do. While this measure will not stop the spread of COVID-19, it will bring certainty and consistency in schools across Arizona.”
Plenty of schools had already taken it upon themselves to close down despite the advice from the state officials and Dr. Cara Christ, the Arizona Department of Health Services director. Roughly 40 districts and charters announced either closures, extensions of Spring Break or going completely online, including the state’s largest school district — Mesa Public Schools, which has 60,000 students.
“The health and safety of all our students is our top priority, and we’ve worked hard to keep our school doors open — schools provide important services and many families rely on them for nutrition, access to health care,” Hoffman said in the statement. “I am in close contact with school superintendents, teachers, and parents and will continue working closely in partnership with schools to ensure that our families needs are met.”
Hoffman and Ducey stressed that parents should keep their children at home “to the greatest extent possible,” and that they should not be cared for by elderly relatives, as they might be put at risk.
Families who can’t, should lean on the state’s partners in non-profit, faith-based and education communities, the two said. The state will also be working to ensure students on free or reduced lunch will continue to be fed and school staff out of work will receive pay.
The announcement vastly differs from the one Christ gave on March 12 where she said they are not recommending any widespread school closures.
“Schools are critical in the lives of our children and our families. And public health realizes that the role you play extends beyond just teaching our children- which is why it is so important that we do everything we can to keep our schools open and our children and teachers safe,” Christ said.
Sunday’s joint statement came less than an hour after Ducey tweeted that the state will follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s suggestion to cancel all public events and mass gatherings involving 50 or more people. Ducey clarified the recommendation didn’t apply to colleges, universities or businesses.
Ducey’s announcement is a clear change in tone. At a business luncheon March 11, Ducey said he “didn’t think twice about coming,” because he and the people there weren’t vulnerable.
Friday morning, Governor’s Office Spokesman Patrick Ptak said the office wouldn’t, “at this time” limit visitors, Ducey’s schedule or staff operations and stressed its focus remained on “prioritizing public health.” The office then on Friday cancelled an event in Graham County for the coming week and said Ducey’s schedule is “in flux” as he and Christ wrangle the state response to COVID-19.
Pima County Health Department confirmed the state’s thirteenth confirmed case of COVID-19 Sunday morning.
As Ducey and state health leaders re-evaluate their approach to contain the spread of the virus and treat those who are sick, the Legislature is expected to decide whether to suspend the legislative session in the coming days.
House and Senate leadership and staff, according to the Arizona Legislative Report, are considering several different paths forward for the session, after three lawmakers said they will not be returning to the Capitol during the outbreak. Leadership is considering passing a baseline budget to fund agencies and provide short-term certainty if the group decides to suspend or end session.
House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, said she favors a plan to recess for two or three weeks and returning to pass a budget.