Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday rescinded the requirement that masks be worn by all staff and students in Arizona schools, drawing a sharp rebuke from the state’s top schools official.
“Today’s abrupt removal of the mask mandate in schools is 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,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said in a statement to the Mirror.
Though Hoffman, a Democrat, and the Republican Ducey worked closely together on responding to the novel coronavirus in the early months of the pandemic in 2020, that cooperation began to fray by the summer. The Arizona Department of Education, which Hoffman leads, said Monday that it was told that Ducey would end the mask mandate in schools only moments before it was announced publicly, and that it was not consulted beforehand.
“Today’s announcement destabilizes school communities as they end what has arguably been the most challenging year for education,” Hoffman said. “I encourage school leaders and board members to work with their communities to make transparent, evidence-based decisions that build trust in the safety of our schools.”
Ducey said in a press release that ending mandatory mask use follows guidance issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though it’s unclear what guidance the governor means. The most recent CDC recommendations calls for students and staff to wear masks in schools.
“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,” Ducey said in a press release about the move. “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.”
In a press release about the move, the Governor’s office cited new CDC guidance which was adopted by the Arizona Department of Health Services in March, saying today’s actions are “in alignment” with those guidelines.
However, the guidance in those documents state that “universal and correct usage of masks is required.”
“We know that transmission is low among youth, and Arizona was among the first states to prioritize vaccinating teachers,” Ducey spokesman C.J. Karamargin said to the Mirror. “This executive order and emergency measure ensures schools are able to make their own decisions around mask requirements, depending on the needs of their community, in alignment with CDC guidance.”
Approximately 1.9 million Arizonans have been fully vaccinated against the virus, but children under the age of 16 are ineligible to receive a vaccine.
As of April 19, there have been 854,453 cases of COVID-19 and 17,153 deaths with 692 new cases reported Monday.