PHOENIX — The Arizona Department of Health Services says it will be matching the latest CDC guidelines for vaccinated people resuming masks indoors and on K-12 school campuses as the Delta variant continues to spread.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed its mask guidance Tuesday and is now recommending the use of masks indoors in areas of high or substantial transmission, as well as masking for everyone in K-12 schools.
#BREAKING - CDC recommends vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas w/ high or substantial COVID-19 spread. Data from CDC says that would include these #Arizona counties:— Nick Ciletti (@NickCiletti) July 27, 2021
-Santa Cruz pic.twitter.com/jbQuYlr8lz
"The mask recommendation does make sense especially when you've got high community or substantial community transmission," ADHS Health Director Dr. Cara Christ said.
Following new @CDCgov mask guidelines, @AZDHS will also update its recommendations, including that EVERYONE in K-12 schools should wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. @abc15 pic.twitter.com/OqLTL8T3nT— Claudia Rupcich (@ClaudiaRupcich) July 27, 2021
Christ said the agency is also urging everyone in K-12 schools to wear masks indoors -- including teachers, staff members and students -- regardless of vaccination status.
In May, the CDC said most who were fully vaccinated could go without masks indoors. But that was before delta became the dominant variant in the country.
It's hard to find students wearing masks at school now. But when Miriam Hoban's first-grader begins school next week, she'll be wearing a mask. Mom's hoping her daughter won't be the only one. “I don't know what the school is going to do at this point. Or if the district is going to change their recommendation. We'll have to wait and see. We're going to meet the teacher next week and we'll talk to them and see what it's going to be like at school,” said Hoban.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman called on Governor Ducey to allow school districts to make decisions on whether to issue mask mandates when appropriate. Hoffman also encouraged parents, teachers and staff to wear masks in school.
Gov. Doug Ducey weighed in on the CDC's Tuesday announcement, continuing to reiterate the importance of getting the vaccine but noting that our state would not be issuing any mandates for residents.
"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 said in a statement Tuesday. "We’re going to continue to work to distribute this vaccine to Arizonans and build public confidence in its effectiveness, despite this unnecessary and unhelpful 'guidance' from Washington, D.C."
Only about 50% of people are fully vaccinated in Arizona, and the dominant delta variant continues to spread. According to the Translational Genomics Research Institute, TGen, delta is now accounting for over 75% of all cases in the state.
"Two things with the delta variant: One is that it's much more infectious than previous variants. And two, vaccinated people can actually spread it to other people," said Dr. Shad Marvasti, director of public health and prevention at The University of Arizona College of Medicine - Phoenix.
"This new data weighs heavily on me, this new guidance weighs heavily on me. I just wanted to convey this was not a decision taken lightly. Public health experts, scientific experts, medical experts when we showed this data have universally said that this required action," said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky during a media briefing Tuesday.
Dr. Shad said while vaccinated people are unlikely to become severely ill, there's new international data that shows in some cases, vaccinated people are getting sicker, even ending up in hospitals.
"It's unpredictable, so I think we need to take a better-safe-than-sorry approach," he said.
According to CDC numbers, all but two Arizona counties, Yuma and Cochise, are in the high or substantial transmission category.
That means for most people in Arizona -- it's recommended that individuals mask up.
"This moment, and most importantly, the associated illness, suffering and death, could have been avoided with higher vaccination coverage in this country," said Dr. Walensky on the call.
Getting vaccinated is still the best way to prevent severe illness or hospitalization. Dr. Shad said wearing masks is an extra layer of protection.
"Until you get to a point where 70-80% or more of the population is fully vaccinated, you should not stop wearing masks in public," he said. "Not only to stop the spread from other people and get cases under control but also to protect children and to protect yourself because it's not completely predictable how sick you could get."
Dr. Shad said there are also questions about long-term COVID-19 symptoms among those vaccinated, saying some studies have shown vaccinated people with mild symptoms ended up developing long-term effects.