Payson schools continue to struggle with the impact of COVID, with on-campus cases rising slowly — and reported family clusters that started on campus.

Nonetheless, the school board last week took heart from the slower spread of the virus on campus compared to a surge a month ago.

The district’s mandatory quarantine for the unvaccinated close contacts of students who test positive has had an effect. Moreover, the district now has a good supply of the rapid antigen test, which can quickly detect an active infection even in kids who don’t have symptoms.

“We’re showing some people coming back positive on a rapid antigen test — so we’ve caught some kids who don’t have symptoms,” said Superintendent Linda Gibson at the Monday, Oct. 11 board meeting.

Gibson also reported the news that the district’s enrollment continues to rise. The district enrollment dropped by about 400 students last year, but about 300 of those returned this year. Enrollment has continued to rise as the school year goes on.

The schools have far more on-campus cases than last year — when students spent a lot of time in distance learning and many more students wore masks on campus. The Arizona Legislature barred mask mandates on school campuses, but a Superior Court judge has declared that law unconstitutional because it was slipped into an unrelated budget bill. Many school districts statewide still have mask mandates, but not Payson.

Since the start of the school year, the district has reported 147 infections among students and 25 among faculty and staff — plus another four suspected cases.

Those positive cases have generated at least 903 close contacts among students and eight among faculty and staff. Few students are vaccinated, with the Pfizer vaccine for teens 12 to 18 just recently approved. More than 80% of faculty and staff are vaccinated, which accounts for the small number of close contacts among staff. But only 10% of those younger than 20 are vaccinated in Gila County.

Studies show that the three approved vaccines dramatically reduce the odds of infection. Even when someone who has been vaccinated suffers a “breakthrough” infection, the vaccine dramatically reduces the odds of serious illness. However, vaccinated people with a breakthrough infection can apparently still spread the virus — even though they’re much less likely to get sick themselves.

Among the positive cases, 66 have been reported at the middle school, 52 at the high school, 18 at Julia Randall Elementary and 11 at Payson Elementary. The virus spreads much more slowly on an elementary school campus because kids remain in a single classroom for most of the day, rather than mingling with six different classes full of kids.

Although the number of infections since the start of the year is high, the number of new infections has slowed in the past two weeks.

However, the schools invariably reflect conditions in the community — and Payson remains something of a COVID hot spot.

Nationally, new cases have declined by 21% in the past two weeks — although doctors still report 91,000 new cases a day and about 2,000 deaths.

In Arizona, cases have declined 7% to about 2,200 cases a day with an average of about 35 deaths.

In Gila County, cases are still rising — up about 18% in the past two weeks as a daily average. The county’s reporting about one death per day. The county has an infection rate of about 39 per 100,000, compared to a state average of 31 per 100,000.

The overwhelming majority of new deaths and hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated and Gila County also remains less vaccinated than most of the rest of the country — especially amongst school-aged kids.

Only 44% of the population is fully vaccinated, compared to 57% nationally. About 20% of the Gila County population has recovered from an infection, which also confers resistance to reinfection and serious illness. Some studies suggest that the vaccine confers more protection from the Delta strain than does recovery from an infection from a previous strain.

The federal Food and Drug Administration has already approved the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 12-18, based on studies showing the shot has minimal side effects and provides a vigorous immune response to the viral proteins. The FDA is now reviewing data on children aged 5-12 who have received the vaccine and is expected to provide emergency approval for younger kids in the next few weeks.

The approval for teens so far is on an “emergency use” basis, as the FDA continues to gather information on side effects and effectiveness in the much larger group now getting the shots. The use of the shot is generally authorized based on a clinical trial with up to 60,000 participants. However, monitoring side effects as millions of people get the shot can reveal extremely rare but potentially serious side effects — although those side effects remain far less serious than the impact of infection.

Once the FDA has enough data, it will likely shift the approval to regular use for children — as it has already done for adults. At that point, schools could require the shots to attend class, as they already do for a host of vaccines like measles, mumps and rubella. Statistics suggest the COVID vaccine is similar in effectiveness and side effects to the polio, measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and more effective than the flu vaccine.

The Delta strain of the virus appears to spread more easily among children than earlier strains. The share of children who have tested positive has risen from 15% before Sept. 2 to 27% since, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Still, most kids have mild symptoms and cases of serious, long-term illness remain rare. Since the start of the pandemic, millions of children have contracted COVID but only 460 have died. Children can develop a serious — sometimes fatal — inflammatory disease months after their recovery, but that also remains rare.

However, studies show that clusters of cases among children in schools can readily spread to their families and other people in the community who face a much greater risk of serious illness and death.

Unfortunately, vaccination rates remain very low in Gila County among parents. The state department of health resources reports that only 33% to 40% of residents between the ages of 20 and 44 have received at least one dose of the two-shot vaccine. Payson also has an unusually large number of grandparents raising their grandchildren. Only 53% of Gila County residents 44-64 and 72% of those over 65 have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

Contact the writer at paleshire@payson.com

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(4) comments

Phil Mason

We'll try this again.

First, the headline is misleading. COVID cases are not still rising in Payson nor in PUSD!!! The number of IDENTIFIED COVID cases are artificially rising since the aggressive testing regimen of the school system was recently installed. The fact is a large number of Identified COVID cases are coming from the massive testing program.

Why would that happen, you might ask. Well, the answer is simple and is inferred in the article — "the district now has a good supply of the rapid antigen test, which can quickly detect an active infection even in kids who don’t have symptoms" — so they’ve caught kids who don’t have symptoms.

Of note here, this test identifies individuals who have the antigens and that includes everyone who have recovered from COVID, those who have ZERO symptoms and a percentage who are identified with false positives.

While I do not suggest sinister intentions from PUSD, I do clearly state that the current national policies and testing mandates are sinister - aka, evil - as an integral part of a plot to take away personal liberties as well as destroy the American Dream as the leading nation in the world.

It is time to look at the unbiased reality of this CCP, WHO, NIH, CDC, Fauxi Fauci, DEMOniCRAT financed and implemented international crime. The false reporting is endemic with medical, educational and bureaucratic organizations part and parcel actors in this scenario.

More to come.

Phil Mason

And the panic demic traveling minstrel show continues.

To quote the article, the school district now has a large supply of instant antigen tests available. PUSD is now conducting an enormous increase in tests which they say identifies individuals who have no symptoms while last year they did not have the material nor program in place. And Shazam, the number of IDENTIFIED cases increased. The real news story here is there is ZERO evidence of any increase in cases, only more TESTED and IDENTIFIED cases.

In addition, there has been exactly ZERO PUSD students hospitalized since COVID was intentionally released from Wuhan to the world. More than that, Banner Payson currently has only two patients who have been identified as having COVID - and BOTH had other medical problems and NOT HOSPITALIZED ONLY AS A RESULT OF COVID.

Part of the manipulated panic demic false data message is if a non-jabbed person enters the hospital WITH COVID and dies of another health issue they are reported as a COVID death while a "jabbed" person who enters the hospital because of a breakthrough COVID case and dies, their cause of death is listed as caused by Hypoxia or respiratory failure and NOT COVID. SCIENCE OR POLITICS??

This is NOT conjecture, but reported directly from hospital medical personnel.

PUSD blindly following the Fauxi Fauci WHO. CDC false flags are contributing to educational failure of students by interrupting a successful scholarship experience.

America and Payson are at extreme economic and social risk in the future due to this corrupt scheme hatched in Washington and Beijing.

Michael Alexander

All these statistics, but why not the age range of the one-a-day (±) COVID-related deaths in Gila County? Were they school-aged kids, or were they the elderly?

Phil Mason

This is so typical of this writer. The statement: "The county’s reporting about one death per day." has ZERO value.

Is it one death per day TOTAL?

One death per day with COVID?

One death per day because of COVID?

The lack of clarification does not seem coincidence.

I can tell you that as of last week there were only two patients in Banner WITH COVID and neither was because OF COVID.

The national directives to report "jabbed" and "not jabbed" differently is sinister with political purposes. Jabbed patients who have breakthrough mortality outcomes are reported as dying from hypoxia or respiratory failure. Unjabbed who die from another health issue with COVID are reported as dying from COVID.

And there are questions why people do not trust what is reported.

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