PHOENIX - Governor Doug Ducey on Tuesday issued an executive order stating that Arizona college students cannot be mandated to take the COVID-19 vaccine or wear masks in order to participate in learning.
The order provides exemptions for students who are participating in medical or clinical training. It does not prevent institutions from encouraging vaccinations, providing testing, or having voluntary mask usage.
"The vaccine works, and we encourage Arizonans to take it. But it is a choice and we need to keep it that way," Ducey said in a statement on June 15. "Public education is a public right, and taxpayers are paying for it. We need to make our public universities available for students to return to learning. They have already missed out on too much learning. From K-12 to higher education, Arizona is supporting in-person learning."
ASU and the Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s three public universities, said they would comply with Ducey’s order. An ASU statement noted that it never issued a vaccine mandate but was following guidelines for universities from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by ensuring that unvaccinated people continue to follow protocols like masking.
"The CDC recognizes the unique environments of institutions of higher learning; the ASU student population includes people from all 50 states and more than 130 countries," the statement said.
Ducey’s order came after he criticized the ASU policy in a series of tweets Monday night. He said the rules for students attending class in person this fall has "no basis in public health" and that even the Biden administration has been more reasonable.
But the governor also included a screenshot of a quote from the CDC’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, that appeared to contradict his own position.
"The science demonstrates that if you are fully vaccinated, you are protected," Walensky is quoted as saying. "It is the people who are not fully vaccinated in those settings, who might not be wearing a mask, who are not protected."
On Monday, Arizona State University announced students taking in-person classes are expected to be fully vaccinated two weeks before the first day of the fall semester, and they will have to provide proof of vaccination to the ASU health portal.
The ASU policy, sent to students last week by Vice President of Student Services Joanne Vogel and posted online Monday, said the university expected students to get a vaccine since they are now widely available and are "highly effective at preventing COVID-19 infection and reducing the spread of the virus."
In an interview before Ducey’s executive order was issued, ASU President Michael Crow said he believes the governor and other critics of the policy may have misinterpreted it, calling it essentially an extension of current rules that say vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks in most cases.
"I think what happened here was some people thought that we were requiring vaccinations, initially, which we weren’t," Crow said. "I think that’s just gotten some people very upset, and hopefully they’ll take a closer look at it."
Crow said the university has been consistently pushing for a full return to in-person learning and is not requiring COVID-19 vaccines as many universities are doing.
"We’re allowing freedom of choice," Crow said. "So we expect vaccinations, but if you don’t get vaccinated, then you’ve got to follow CDC guidelines for institutions of higher education, which are quite clear."
Ducey said the vaccine works but is a choice and calling public education a right that taxpayers are paying for.
"This policy is social engineering at its worst," Ducey tweeted. "Health policy should be based on science, not virtue signaling. In America, freedom wins."
He announced that Republican state Sen. T.J. Shope will introduce legislation to make his executive order a law. Shope and other GOP lawmakers had tweeted that they opposed the ASU rules.
GOP Rep. Travis Grantham called the policy " discriminatory and onerous" and called on the university to immediately rescind it. He said he would propose withholding funding from ASU if the policy remained.
Arizona authorities on Tuesday reported 423 additional COVID-19 cases and 11 deaths from the virus.
In all, Arizona has reported 887,569 cases and 17,779 deaths from the virus since the pandemic began.
The number of people statewide hospitalized because of COVID-19 is 509. Of those, 120 are patients in the ICU.
As for vaccinations, more than 6.2 million vaccine doses have been administered in Arizona to date. More than 3.4 million individuals, or 48% of the eligible population, have gotten at least one dose. More than 3 million have been fully vaccinated.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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