Payson schools remain a COVID hot spot, as the fierce national debate about how to contain the pandemic turns to vaccine mandates.

Payson schools had accumulated a total of 124 positive cases and 806 close contacts as of last Thursday, with numbers growing sharply by the day. The district has about 2,300 students and about 300 employees.

President Joe Biden Thursday announced federal vaccine mandates that will cover about two-thirds of the U.S. workforce, including most teachers. He also urged schools to require vaccinations for students older than 16.

Nine states have already mandated vaccines in schools and for school staff — some for those over 12, some for those over 16. That includes the Los Angeles School District, one of the largest in the nation.

However, the Arizona Legislature this year barred either mask mandates or vaccine mandates in schools.

Cases in Payson schools have soared in recent weeks. Gila County has one of the highest per-capita death rates in the country since the start of the pandemic. Although the rate of increase throughout the county has slowed, new cases have accelerated in the school district.

Rim Country Middle School has suffered the biggest blow — with 61 student and five staff cases, as of Friday. Two other students have COVID-like symptoms. A total of 726 students — but no faculty members — are listed as close contacts. That total exceeds the enrollment at the school, but the list of close contacts include students who have been double counted because they came into contact with more than one positive case.

Cases in the high school have also begun to build — with 32 positive cases among students and one among faculty — generating 52 close contacts.

Numerous studies have shown that middle schools and high schools produce far more clusters than elementary schools, mainly because students rotate through six classes per day — creating the potential for 180 close contacts daily for each student. By contrast, elementary school students remain in a single class with 20 or 30 students and schools can easily manage the number of close contacts by controlling the way different classes mix at lunch and recess.

Payson’s experience this semester bears out the research — with just 19 student cases and two faculty cases at Payson Elementary and Julia Randall Elementary. Those 21 positive cases generated just 30 close contacts — even allowing for double counting.

Payson Superintendent Linda Gibson said, “There has been an increase at the high school level and a calming at the middle school level. We’re coping on a day-to-day basis” but are not considering any additional changes in policy.

The school board recently accepted the advice of the county health department and now requires anyone with symptoms of a positive test to quarantine for 10 days. Close contacts who have not been vaccinated or recovered from a previous infection must also quarantine. The district does not require masks in classrooms, in compliance with the new state law.

The Biden administration’s embrace of vaccine mandates for federal workers, health care facilities receiving money from Medicare and Medicaid and companies with more than 100 employees puts the state into direct conflict with federal rules and regulations. If people don’t want to get vaccinated at large businesses, they could instead get a test each week to show they’re not infected. It’s unclear who would pay for this test — health plans, employers or employees. Federal workers would have 75 days to get vaccinated or face unspecified consequences.

Moreover, the federal government is now urging schools to require students older than 16 to get vaccinated, now that the vaccines have full, non-emergency approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration. The FDA is expected to issue full approval for use of the vaccine in ages 12 to 16 in the coming weeks and for children younger than 12 before the end of the year.

Payson does not require school employees to get vaccinated and estimates that more than 80% are protected. The nation’s major teachers union has come out to support mandatory vaccinations, with exceptions for some conditions.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has said the state will “push back” against the new federal vaccine requirements. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich — who is running for governor — has suggested the state will sue to block the federal vaccine mandates. Both have harshly criticized the new policies as federal overreach and an infringement of individual rights.

Rep. Paul Gosar, who represents Rim Country in Congress, also blasted vaccine mandates. “There is no law authorized by Congress and no constitutional provision that conveys the power to the presidency to force any citizen to undergo a medical procedure against their will. Mr. Biden’s decision mandating that Americans take a COVID-19 vaccine is illegal, unconstitutional and a deprivation of individual liberty. This is radial government overreach.”

Similar battles erupted over previous vaccine mandates, including the campaigns that wiped out smallpox and nearly exterminated polio in the U.S. Smallpox killed 300 million people between 1900 and 1977, when the vaccine eradicated it. Before the development of the first vaccine, smallpox accounted for about 8% of all deaths annually.

Studies have shown that the three approved COVID vaccines are roughly 95% effective against most COVID strains and perhaps 80% to 85% effective against the Delta strain. Even when someone suffers a breakthrough infection, those who have been vaccinated are less likely to suffer serious illness or die. It’s unclear from the existing studies whether recovery from an infection without a vaccine offers comparable protection, especially when it comes to the Delta variant. Some small-scale studies suggest recovery from infection by a previous strain offers about 34% infection from a new infection by the Delta variant — roughly the same level of protection of a single dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

Health officials are alarmed at a big increase in cases in schools and hospitalization of children with serious illness due to the spread of the Delta variant.

Fortunately, unvaccinated children are still far less likely to get seriously ill compared to unvaccinated adults — even in the face of the much faster spread of the Delta variant. However, studies have suggested schools are increasingly the source of clusters of new cases that then spread to unvaccinated adults — both on campus and off.

One study found that unvaccinated and unmasked middle school students have a 40% chance of getting infected at school over time, according to researchers from Georgia Tech and North Carolina State University.

Hospitalization rates among children and teens rose fivefold between late June and mid-August as the Delta variant pushed aside earlier strains across the country. Hospitalization rates were 10 times higher among unvaccinated children, according to the report from the Centers for Disease Control. Some 30,000 children with COVID were hospitalized in August. Despite the big increase, those under 18 with the virus have only a fraction of the hospitalization rate of adults.

States like Arizona with low vaccination rates have seen the biggest increase in new cases and deaths among both children and adults, according to national tracking data.

The Delta variant prompted the CDC to change its recommendations for schools, with support for mask mandates indoors when students cannot socially distance. The recommendations were based in part on studies showing that universal masking in schools reduced infection rates by 800%. The combination of masking, natural ventilation of classrooms and fine filters on air conditioning and heating units reduced transmission by 3,000%. However, the new Arizona law bars school mask mandates.

A new poll last week showed that 59% of Arizona’s likely voters oppose the ban on school mask mandates, while 38% support the ban. The poll included 400 respondents, with a margin of error plus or minus 5%. The Arizona School Boards Association and the Arizona Public Health Association paid for the poll. The ASBA is challenging the state’s mask mandate ban for schools in court. Voters supported vaccine mandates by a smaller margin. The respondents were 42% Republican, 34% Democratic, 8% independents and 16% undeclared — mirroring the make up of the state’s most likely voters.

Democrats and Republicans divided sharply. Some 92% of Democrats but only 26% of Republicans supported mask mandates in schools. Independents fell somewhere in between, although a majority supported mask mandates.

Some 72% of those surveyed said they have been vaccinated, but that included 52% of Republicans and 93% of Democrats.

“For the Arizona School Boards Association, the heart of the mask issue is local control,” said Ann O’Brien, president of ASBA’s board of directors and a Deer Valley Unified School District Governing Board member. “We believe that our member districts and their locally elected school board should be able to decide what’s best for their students and staff. In general, voters support masks, but most importantly, they also support allowing our local school districts to have a choice on whether or not they would like to implement a mask mandate.”

The poll showed 62% opposed Ducey’s plan to use $163 million in federal COVID relief money to reward schools that don’t require masks. The governor had set aside a portion of the federal pandemic relief money intended for schools. The grant program required the state to pass the money along to low-income school districts struggling with the costs of the pandemic and much greater documented learning losses among students. Those low-income districts — including most rural schools, including Payson — have already received the maximum allotment through the program. So the money the governor is withholding based on mask mandates can only go to high-income school districts. Payson’s not eligible, noted Gibson.

Some 62% of the voters polled said they disagree with the order that offered money to districts that do not adopt mask mandates.

About 51% also opposed the governor’s order prohibiting local government from requiring proof of vaccination from their employees.

“Vaccines are effective against the Delta variant, but transmission risk remains elevated among unvaccinated persons — particularly in schools,” said Will Humble, head of the Arizona Public Health Association. “Once again, the public understands this and a majority think that a private business or local public entity should be able to require proof of vaccination to help stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Contact the writer at

Recommended for you

(9) comments

Jeff Robbins

Good Evening Mr Mason,

I believe you misinterpret my message. I did not get the jab to protect myself. I got the jab to buy protect you sir.I have had 3 moderna jabs with no consequences or

reaction. As a young man I enlisted in the Army because I felt duty bound to serve my country and my community. It disappoints me that others don’t feel any duty to protect others and make a small sacrifice for the common good. I remember on the second day of boot camp they lined us all up and gave us 8 shots of some kind because we were going to deploy overseas.No one questioned or complained. I suppose you could pose an argue we were victims of technocracy but what purpose would it serve? I hope you reconsider your position and have a sense of duty towards others. I worry about you health and hope you dodge the bullet. SARS and MERS are much more deadly however the transmission rate of Covid 19 is 1000 times worse as a result a much larger percentage of the world population will be infected. It’s just a numbers game with this one that is not in the favor of the unvaccinated. I wish you the best and please take precautions and stay safe please

Jeff Robbins

Thank you sir.

I have read hundreds of reports,medical papers,and scientific data published in America and many other countries. My extensive research has led me to believe the vaccines are safe,effective as they can be and necessary . Perhaps you could offer a non political resource for me to read.

Phil Mason

First, nearly everything about COVID and Big Pharma is both political and fiscal. We need to cease calling mRNA a vaccine - it is not. The fact is that the FDA, CDC and WHO have been co-opted by the Socialist globalists. These formerly scientific organizations are so corrupt there is very little trust in anything they say or do

Big Pharma is making hundreds of Billions in profits and their products do not prevent the acquisition or transmission of COVID while adverse health effects are widespread in otherwise healthy adults who take the jab.

The historical track record on real vaccines show none of the adverse health problems this technology creates and the largest group opposing the"jab" are health care professionals. That has never happened before and should be cautionary.

I have never advocated people should not get the "jab". I am opposed to the Communist controlled WHO, CDC, and Biden Admin mandates. There is a lot of information out there for anyone to research and make a risk assessment.

If you are masked and jabbed because you believe it will protect you, by all means wear the mask, get the jabs (now three and already there are advocates for a fourth). If you are right, even if you are around a person who is infected (jab or not) who is infected, you will be safe so you are at no risk.

Ever since Roe v Wade the mantra of the left has been My Body, My Choice as the justification for killing babies and now those same people are advocating the mandates. At best that is hypocritical, at worst, it is sinister, political and deadly.

Jeff Robbins

Thank you for the spell check.

Thank you for reinforcing my argument.

The misinformation for donation model that has gripped America is repugnant.

I would suggest you need an injection of facts and information.

Please copy and paste the links provided and stop relying on Media and the misinformation for donation model.

As you will read the current Covid 19 vaccine has been worked on for decades.

Have a blessed day - Phil

Phil Mason

Two things.

One - Every knowledgeable researcher knows that Wikipedia is worthless as a real source because it is built with reader input. therefore since I don't use Wikipedia for anything except general information background.

two - You really should read the sites you recommend to back up your false position. The CDC site you reference states the following in the two top main areas for emphasis: mRNA vaccines are a NEW type of vaccine to protect against infectious diseases. mRNA type of stuff has been looked at by researchers in a general way for decades, but the specific mRNA currently used for Covid is brand new. Again,the CDC emphasizes with multiple statements that "mRNA vaccines are a NEW type of vaccine to protect against infectious diseases." Kind of blows your statement that "the current Covid 19 vaccine has been worked on for decades"!

Have a blessed day & read your own sources closely prior to relying on 4 support.

Jeff Robbins

It’s nice that you got it Phil.

Free riders - Enjoying the safety of those that make the sacrifice to vax but unwilling to step up and do they’re share.

Phil Mason

I got it 5 decades ago and I didn't need a government mandate or public shaming to get it.

I have NEVER opposed vaccinations as they have always been made available to the public after going through a set of protocols, but I am concerned that this so called vax does not qualify as a vax, it is nano technology without any of the previously established protocols AND there have been thousands of adverse health effects to otherwise healthy people.

It is also interesting that our heroic medical professionals are the largest single group opposing the mRNA. Why would that be if the mRNA were safe? That is a question, not a statement.

Government mandates are against our Constitution and public shaming goes counter to the American basic principles. But then, you (as well as the socialist Dems, RINOs and CCP allies) know that.

Before you get aggravated & think I am calling you one of those in the parenthesis, I am not, even though you are aligned on this one subject.

I do think it is irrational and disingenuous for them to say "my body, my choice" when it comes to killing a baby, but not when it comes to masks or vax.

BTW it should be "their share", not "they're share"

Phil Mason

So many words, so little said.

free riders - those at the trough who do not pay for the feed

free riders - those who make $75k by taking from those who make $31k

Jeff Robbins

Stop Free Riding

Promoting vaccination is an important goal in public health policy. However, Covid 19 vaccination coverage in the United States is still far below the public policy goal. Vaccination may be discouraged by the incentive to “free-ride”. Referred to herein as “free-riders” in vaccination, these individuals avoid the cost associated with vaccination while benefiting from other individuals' vaccination.

Vaccination for infectious diseases produces herd immunity, providing indirect benefit to unvaccinated individuals. As the result of herd immunity, the risk of infection for an individual depends on other individuals' vaccination status; risk of infection generally decreases as the vaccination coverage in a community increases regardless of an individual's vaccination status.

The free rider problem can crop up when the resource is shared by all and free to all. Like air. If a community sets voluntary pollution standards that encourage all residents to cut back on carbon-based fuels, many will respond positively. But some will refuse to make any change in their habits. If enough follow the standards, the air quality will improve, and all the residents will benefit equally, even the free riders.

Free riders can be forced to contribute to the public good, which is essentially what school-entry immunization mandates do in the case of herd immunity against vaccine-preventable diseases.

People do things for their own selfish reasons, not your reasons. Herd immunity against vaccine-preventable childhood diseases is a public good—one that is created by self-interest but cannot be maintained by self-interest. It is also a “last mile” problem: Vaccine coverage is generally very good but reaching those few who resist is difficult. Indeed, it is the last mile of herd immunity that is the most fragile, where self-interest begins to create free-riding defectors rather than pro-social contributors.

The concern of the government for the health, peace, morality, and safety of its citizens. The preamble to the U.S. Constitution cites promotion of the general welfare as a primary reason for the creation of the Constitution.

What exactly is "the common good," ability to discern and act on what’s in our common interest depends on believing that we, as Americans, all have something in common. “We the People”

I would argue that if you are unwilling to make the sacrifice a simple shot or wear a thin mask for the common good “We the People” you are selfish free rider, politically manipulated, misinformed and unconstitutional.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Avoid obscene, hateful, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful.
Be Nice. No name-calling, racism, sexism or any sort of -ism degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article. Real names only!