PHOENIX - Governor Ducey announced on April 19 that he is rescinding an order that directs K-12 schools in Arizona to require masks.
The decision was announced on Gov. Ducey's verified Twitter page.
"Nearly 2 million Arizonans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with many teachers and school faculty now fully vaccinated after being some of the first in line for vaccine prioritization," the Governor wrote. "Teachers, families, and students have acted responsibly to mitigate the spread of the virus and protect one another, and our school leaders are ready to decide if masks should be required on their campuses."
Gov. Ducey claims his decision is in alignment with CDC guidance, but it is unclear which guidance he was referring to. CDC's guidance on mask wearing, which was last updated on April 19, still recommends people age 2 and older to wear masks "in public settings and when around people who don’t live in their household."
According to the Governor's Office website, Executive Order 2020-51, which was issued by Gov. Ducey on July 23, 2020, contains a provision that directs all school districts and charter schools in Arizona to "develop and implement a policy to require face coverings, such as face masks or face shields," for all staff and students over the age of five.
The executive order, which also contains other provisions on education during the pandemic, was set to expire on June 30, 2021.
"We will continue to work with public health professionals and Arizona's schools as more students return to the classroom and our state moves forward," wrote Gov. Ducey, in one of his tweets.
Despite the Governor's announcement, a number of school districts in Arizona have announced that their mask mandates wil remain in place.
As of April 19, figures from the Arizona Department of Health Services show the state has administered 4,495,519 COVID-19 vaccine doses, with 1,926,181 people having been fully vaccinated against the disease.
According to AZDHS officials, everyone 16 or older can receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in Arizona, while only those 18 and older can receive the Moderna vaccine.
AZDHS officials announced on April 13 that they have temporarily halted its use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, following reports of a rare and severe type of blood clot in some individuals. Prior to its use being paused, anyone 18 and older in Arizona was eligible for the vaccine.
Top state education official lambasts decision
Following Gov. Ducey's announcement, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman issued a statement that criticized Gov. Ducey's decision on masks at schools, calling it "abrupt" and "just one example in a long line of decisions that have resulted in Arizona's embarrassing response to a virus that has claimed over 17,000 lives and impacted thousands more."
"Children under 16 are still ineligible for COVID-19 vaccines, and CDC still recommends universal masking in public school to ensure safe learning environments," read a portion of the statement. "Today's announcement destabilized school communities as they end what has arguable been the most challenging year for education."
Earlier on April 19, before Gov. Ducey made his decision on school mask requirements public, Supt. Hoffman said there were "no signs of ending the mask mandates."
Jenny Jackson and Alysia Smalling say Gov. Ducey's decision was welcome news.
"At restaurants, extracurriculars, the zoo, shopping, people have mask choice. So a school setting should be no exception," said Jackson.
"I was ecstatic that my daughter might have the choice to wear a mask at school, and that the people were heard," said Smalling.
Both Jackson and Smalling were involved with a "Let the Children Breathe" rally.
For other parents, however, completely removing masks now seems like a stretch.
"There’s vaccine progress, but we’re not there yet," said David Moore. "People are still interacting and could spread the virus. So it shouldn't have been repealed for K-12 or K-99."
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CDC Website for COVID-19
https://espanol.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html (In Spanish/En Español)
AZDHS Website for COVID-19