Arizona school, hospital officials urge continued mask mandates

Hospital officials and Arizona’s schools chief on Sept. 30 urged local governments not to lift their mask mandates, warning that moving too quickly could reverse the state’s progress in tamping down COVID-19.

More schools across Arizona are welcoming kids back to campus, and many campuses are getting back to full classrooms and full in-person schedules.

The state’s top school official spoke out on mask mandates and the issues of transparency when it comes to COVID-19 outbreaks on school campuses.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said schools play a critical role for children and families, and the state can’t ease up on efforts to control the coronavirus outbreak.

“Our school communities are depending on continued steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our state,” Hoffman, a Democrat, said in a statement.

She and health officials stress that masks are a new and necessary school supply this year, and are key to keeping the virus at bay, allowing schools to open for in-person learning.

Hoffman is also calling on school district officials to not be afraid to be transparent when alerting parents and community members of positive cases of COVID-19 on campuses.

As of Sept. 30, districts are required to report positive cases to county health departments, but health officials will not release the names of schools to the public.

Hoffman says lack of communication can create rumors and fear among parents.

"I know some schools are worried about posting information because they're worried it would have some stigma, that people won’t want to come. But I do think this just causes more fear and uncertainty. People hear it through the grapevine and they’re texting each other. That’s not the best system. We need to err on the side of being fully transparent," Hoffman said.

State health officials are giving out free masks and students and staff can now get 5 free reusable masks through Arizona’s Mask-Up program.

Mask mandates in some cities expected to expire

The Health System Alliance of Arizona, which represents most of the state’s big hospital chains, also warned in a statement on Sept. 30 that eliminating mask mandates risks burdening the health care system.

Scottsdale’s mayor lifted a mask mandate last week, though the city is still subject to a mask requirement imposed by Maricopa County.

Some hospital systems oppose Scottsdale dropping mask mandate

While the city of Scottsdale decided to end its mask mandate, Maricopa County's is still in place, causing much confusion and worry.

The board of supervisors, the county’s elected governing body, has privately discussed lifting the mandate and could take action at a meeting in October.

The mayor of a western Arizona tourist destination this week lifted a citywide mask mandate originally ordered in July that required facial coverings indoors when social distancing was not possible.

Lake Havasu City Mayor Cal Sheehy suspended the mandate on Monday after it was extended twice.

In Lake Havasu City, the mayor’s order for had been set to expire Oct. 15. The city along the shore of the Colorado River attracts recreational boaters, off-road vehicle enthusiasts, hikers and anglers

The order listed multiple exceptions, including children under 6 years old and in places where it was not practicable or feasible to wear face masks.

Despite the announcement, all bars, restaurants, fitness centers, movie theaters and water parks are required to adhere to guidelines from the Arizona Department of Health Services. Those guidelines dictate the use of masks for customers and employees, even if there is no local mask requirement.

Some businesses such as Walmart and Safeway have their own face-covering requirements.

“I would just ask all of our citizens to comply with those businesses’ request,” Sheehy said. “Many businesses are requiring it as a mitigation strategy, and I still strongly urge all of our citizens and visitors to wear a face covering or a mask when they are not able to physically distance.”

Sheehy three weeks ago said he would use data to determine when to lift the mask mandate. Mohave County, which includes Lake Havasu City, met the threshold to allow businesses to reopen on Sept. 3, and the county met the state benchmarks for partial in-person education on Thursday.

Mohave County’s number of cases per 100,000 population has dropped from 367 in the second week of July to 44 during the first week of September, health officials said. The percentage of positive COVID-19 tests also dropped, declining from 18.9% to 4.2%.

Coronavirus in Arizona: Latest case numbers

Statewide, the Arizona Department of Health Services on Wednesday reported 323 additional COVID-19 cases with 18 additional deaths, increasing the state’s totals to 218,507 cases and 5,650 deaths.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

“Public health professionals believe that the best strategy is to wear a face covering or a mask – and I still encourage that,” Sheehy said. “But it is just asking our citizens to take personal responsibility and to do what is best for themselves and their family.”

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