Arizona officials voice concerns with lack of mask mandates

The Arizona Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AzAAP) and the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) voiced their concerns over the current lack of mask mandates as students begin returning to school. 

 

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Kathy Hoffman, the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, expressed her concerns in the release. 

“All summer, our schools prepared to welcome back their students after a difficult year marked by instability and loss. Now, because of decisions made by politicians, not public health experts, Arizona is facing another deadly surge of COVID-19 fueled by the more contagious Delta variant.”

Her statement comes as the governor remains adamant on restricting mask requirements in the state. In a press release on July 27, Gov. Doug Ducey remained steadfast in his stance. 

“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.”

Ducey took things a step further with the August 17 announcement of a $163 million grant money from the American Rescue Plan aimed at boosting per-pupil spending. The money, however, will only go to district and charter schools that follow state laws and continue offering in-person instruction. The program, known as the Education Plus Up Grant Program, will provide each qualified school up to $1,800 in per-pupil funding. 

This plan, however, creates disparities in the number of schools that receive funding. It’s a problem that the AzAAP and the ADE brought up in their statements. 

“While we know that learning and growing have not stopped, many students will need additional support and resources this year to accelerate their learning and address their mental health needs.”

This needed funding may not be accessible for some schools and their students based on the requirements laid out by the Education Plus Up Grant Program. 

In his July 27 release, Gov. Ducey said the CDC’s mask guidance [on requiring masks in schools] was detrimental to both patients and health care workers. 

“Public health officials in Arizona and across the country have made it clear that the best protection against COVID-19 is the vaccine. 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.”

Health care officials feel differently. Ann-Marie Alameddin, president and CEO of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, emphasized the need for tighter mask requirements to ensure that both hospital staff and students stay safe. 

“Having available healthcare staff to cover what is becoming a limited amount of available hospital beds is our challenge as more and more patients come to the hospital for critical care. Reducing community spread with proven public health interventions is key—wear masks in public, including schools and get vaccinated.”

One Arizona health official feels that COVID-19 could have been eradicated a lot sooner. Dr. Jason Vargas, president of AzAAP, attributes the lack of momentum and new variants of the virus to where things are right now. 

“We all had hoped that the COVID-19 risk would be eliminated by now. Unfortunately, stalled vaccination rates and the high prevalence of the more contagious Delta variant in Arizona mean that there is still a substantial risk of COVID-19 infection in our state.”