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As AZDHS head defends metrics, longtime doctor calls school reopening guidelines ‘extremely weak’

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TUCSON (KVOA) - Dr. Susan Hughes is a retired family medicine physician who practiced for more than 20 years.

She calls the school benchmarks developed by the Arizona Department of Health Services to return Arizona to in-person learning not strong enough.

“These are extremely weak guidelines,” Hughes said. “These are suggestions, these are recommendations. I would expect a recommendation to be when I go to a restaurant and the waiter says, ‘hey, why don’t you try the surf and turf?’ That’s a recommendation. This is not what I would expect from a public health official hoping and trying to save lives.”

One of the benchmarks sets a Coronavirus test percent positivity rate below seven percent for two consecutive weeks.

At the moment, no county in Southern Arizona meets this guideline.

“I can’t find anywhere where that is medically based,” Dr. Hughes said. “There is no scientific evidence that seven percent is the magic number. Every guideline I’ve looked at, CDC, WHO, California, New York has all been five percent.”

In an interview with News 4 Tucson’s Eric Fink, Friday, Dr. Cara Christ, the Director of the Arizona Department of Health Services defended the recommended benchmarks.  

“We do know that our percent positivity rate is trending higher than likely our community spread actually is given the fact that the majority of our patients have been symptomatic patients,” Christ said. “We thought the seven percent benchmark was a good benchmark.”

Dr. Christ said the seven percent positivity metric is specifically recommended for a hybrid of in-class and online learning.

“For initial opening of a hybrid model, the county has to be below seven percent for two weeks in a row,” Christ said. “Now to return to traditional in person learning, just like normal school, that has to be two weeks below the five percent.“

Dr. Hughes is not convinced.

“I’m very concerned that they will be putting our teachers, our nutrition workers, our students and our communities at risk,” she said. 

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