AZDHS: Masks should be worn indoors, in classrooms amid Delta variant-fueled COVID-19 surge

Arizona's Department of Health Services says masks should be worn indoors by vaccinated and unvaccinated people, including at K-12 schools, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made the recommendation on July 27 as COVID-19 numbers surge.

The CDC changed its mask guidelines Tuesday for people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, citing new information about the ability of the delta variant to spread by those who have been vaccinated.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the high transmissibility of the delta variant is behind the agency’s change in guidelines.

"Unlike the alpha variant that we had back in May, where we didn’t believe that if you were vaccinated you could transmit further - this is different now with the delta variant. And we’re seeing that now, infection is possible if you (have been vaccinated and) are a rare breakthrough infection, that you can transmit further, which is the reason for the change," she said.

Arizona DHS and top educator agrees with the recommendation

The department says everyone who is and isn't vaccinated should be wearing masks indoors with people not of their household, in accordance with the CDC's new guidelines

"In schools, everyone should wear masks regardless of whether they are vaccinated. This includes students, teachers, staff and visitors," the department said.

The CDC lists Maricopa, Pinal, Yavapai, Mohave, Navajo, Apache and Gila counties as having high transmission rates.

Kathy Hoffman, Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction, said on Twitter she's calling on Gov. Doug Ducey to "follow the guidance of public health experts and give schools back their local decision-making authority to set policies for safe in-person instruction."

She calls on educators, students and families to practice COVID-19 protocols to keep the community safe.

"Students, teachers, and parents are ready to get back to in-person learning, but it takes all of us," she said.

Gov. Doug Ducey says there will be no statewide mandate

In response to the recommendation by the CDC, Ducey said in a news release on Tuesday, in part, "Arizona does not allow mask mandates, vaccine mandates, vaccine passports or discrimination in schools based on who is or isn’t vaccinated. We’ve passed all of this into law, and it will not change."

He says the push for mask-wearing among the vaccinated is an example of the Biden-Harris administration's "inability to effectively" battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Today’s announcement by the CDC will unfortunately only diminish confidence in the vaccine and create more challenges for public health officials 一 people who have worked tirelessly to increase vaccination rates," Ducey said.

Recent COVID-19 surge in Arizona

The daily number of new COVID-19 cases and current hospitalizations in Arizona continues to creep upward, according to the state dashboard’s latest figures.

Arizona health officials on July 28 reported 1,361 newly confirmed cases and two more deaths.

Hospitalizations from the virus also rose to 973, with more than a third of them, or 332, occupying ICUs.

Officials also said people who are not fully vaccinated have made up the majority of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths since March.

Over 6.7 million vaccine doses have been administered in Arizona to date. Over 3.7 million people — 51.7% of the state’s population — have received at least one shot of vaccine and over 3.3 million people are fully vaccinated.

Peoria, Phoenix, Flagstaff, Tempe and Tucson requiring masks

Five Arizona cities are back to requiring masks inside city buildings amid a surge in coronavirus cases.

Beginning August 2, anyone entering a Phoenix building must wear a mask, regardless of their vaccination status. Peoria's mandate goes into effect on July 29. Mandates in Flagstaff and Tempe begin July 30. Tucson's new mandate began July 28.

Reaction to the mask recommendation

Parents and education associations are having mixed reactions to the news.

"I feel a little bit of anxiety because masks are not being required and most people are not wearing masks in schools," says Janna Stults, a mother.

The Arizona Education Association also supports the guidance as it says there is concern among teachers about being back in the classroom with the delta variant on the rise.

"Educators and schools need all forms of litigation to make sure we would keep our students and our staff safe," said Joe Thomas, president of the association.

There are those who believe there should be a choice in the matter.

Jenny Jackson is the president of Arizona Stands United and says, "Regardless of the state of emergency, we think parents should have a say for any medical treatments to the masks the children would wear."

The Kyrene School District sent a letter to parents saying that masks will be required on school buses and in district vehicles beginning July 30.

State law prohibits mask mandates on school property, but the district says school buses fall under a federal order requiring face coverings on public transportation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

In order to protect yourself from a possible infection, the CDC recommends: 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • Monitor your health daily

For more information:

Arizona Department of Health Services

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