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Girl student wearing a mask and backpack.
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It’s August and you know what that means—most of us are headed back to school this month! While it’s always fun to see our friends and meet our new teachers, this year we also have to think about whether we’re going to wear a mask when we’re back in the classroom.

Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released guidance recommending that everyone over the age of 2, regardless of their vaccination status, wear a mask in school. This includes all students, teachers and staff. The AAP also announced that they support in-person learning.

The week after the AAP released its guidance, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its mask guidance as well. They are now recommending that fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors when in areas with “substantial” and “high” transmission of COVID-19. This applies to approximately two-thirds of all counties across the country. At the time of the CDC’s new guidance, all but two of Arizona’s counties, Yuma and Cochise, fell into the substantial and high categories where everyone should be wearing a mask, regardless of vaccination status. The CDC continues to recommend that those who are unvaccinated should get the vaccine and continue wearing a mask until they are fully vaccinated.

Earlier in the year, Gov. Doug Ducey rolled back Arizona’s COVID-19 measures. He also signed an executive order that banned mask mandates for all staff and students. After the CDC announced its updated guidance, Ducey said that Arizona will continue to not allow mask mandates.

“Arizona does not allow mask mandates, vaccine mandates, vaccine passports or discrimination in schools based on who is or isn’t vaccinated,” Ducey said in a press release. “We’ve passed all of this into law, and it will not change.” In the same press release, Ducey continued to say that those who are eligible for the vaccine should get it. In Arizona, more than 46 percent of the population is fully vaccinated and 51 percent has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Health Chief & Superintendent Push Safety

Recent rises in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations around the state and the arrival of a more contagious version of the virus have Arizona’s school superintendent and Dept. of Health director reaching out to the public.

“COVID-19 cases are increasing in Arizona,” said Dr. Cara Christ, director of the state health department in a Zoom news conference on July 23. “The main driver (is) those not fully vaccinated. It’s so important to get vaccinated if you haven’t already been.” Currently, only those 12 and older are eligible to be vaccinated. She warns that the Delta variant of the virus, believed to spread from person to person more easily, has increased dramatically in the state.

“As we head back to school, we urge all of those who are eligible, including students 12 and older, to get vaccinated,” Dr. Christ said.

While a new state law does not allow masks to be MANDATED by schools, “Our school guidance recommends that all unvaccinated individuals, which in this case includes children under 12, wear a mask when they’re indoors at school,” Christ continued. She says two of her three kids are still under 12 and she sent them to school with masks.

In the July 21 edition of the Arizona Republic, School Superintendent Kathy Hoffman shared her recommendations in her opinion piece. While she believes opening Arizona schools is a top priority, it must be done safely.

She encourages parents to get their students who are 12 or older vaccinated. “Send your student to school with a mask. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently encouraged all students older than 2 and all school staff to wear masks for in-person school,” the superintendent writes.

She also stressed the importance of not sending your child to school if the student is not feeling well or “if you believe they have been exposed to COVID-19.”

Edition: 
Phoenix
Tucson
Issue: 
August 2021