Mask Debate: Schools, universities and colleges put in mask mandates; Gov. Ducey calls them ‘toothless’
TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Lawmakers are in a mask debate, after multiple universities, colleges and schools announced they are going against a law passed during the most recent legislative session, stating mask mandates are banned.
Within the past 24-hours, both the University of Arizona and Pima Community College announced masks will be required indoors on campus.
“We feel that we are following the law by not signaling out folks who are unvaccinated. This is a mandate for everyone, so we’re not calling attention to the folks who have chosen to not be vaccinated,” Libby Howell, spokesperson for Pima Community College, said on Thursday, Aug. 12.
As COVID-19 case numbers across the state are spiking, Howell said the decision is a continuation of their existing mask protocols that have been in place for a year.
“While we had hoped we would not have to continue a mask mandate, we really decided it was in the best interest of our students and our employees to keep them safe,” Howell said.
The University of Arizona sent KOLD News 13 a statement taking up much of the same position as PCC, and said the order only bans mandates based on vaccination status—not a blanket mandate.
“The new statute (ARS 15-1650.05) and the Governor’s Executive Order from June 15, 2021, only prohibit mask mandates if the mandate is based on vaccination status or provides different requirements based on vaccination status,” said Pam Scott, University of Arizona spokesperson.
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have spoken their peace on the issue. In a letter sent to Gov. Doug Ducey from Republican lawmakers this week, a group of state lawmakers claim the action to require masks indoors, “borders on anarchy and destabilizes the very foundation of our society to have local governments effectively refusing to comply with the law.”
Shelly Kais, Chairman for the Pima County Republican Party, said she agreed with the letter republican lawmakers sent to Governor Ducey. She said those who break the law have to be met with consequences.
“It is written into state law that masks cannot be mandated so the University of Arizona and Pima Community College have made the decision to break the law,” Kais said. “If nothing else, it’s going to create community chaos, it’s going to create distrust.”
Democratic lawmakers followed suit and sent a letter of their own to the governor, claiming schools and districts should not be punished for trying to keep students and staff safe amid the spike in COVID-19 case numbers.
State Representative, Stephanie Stahl-Hamilton, D- Tucson, said one life is too many to lose and argues that masks should be required indoors.
“My children had a potential exposure to COVID, and they’ve only been in school for two days,” Stahl-Hamilton said. “I think it’s a bold move and somebody in this state has to be a leader in this issue.”
The Governor’s office sent KOLD News 13 a statement after all major universities in the state have chosen to enforce mask mandates inside. His office calls the moves, “toothless, unenforceable and will not hold up in court.”
“COVID has been with us for well over a year and a half now, and Arizonans are educated about it. If they want to wear masks, they should absolutely do so. It’s an individual choice. No one and no law anywhere in Arizona is stopping anyone from wearing masks. Ultimately, these mandates are toothless, unenforceable and will not hold up in court. As we’ve said repeatedly, the game-changer in this discussion is the vaccine. It works, it’s widely available and we strongly encourage every eligible Arizonan to get their shot. We also strongly believe the FDA should listen to the American Academy of Pediatrics and expand authorization of this life-saving vaccine to children under the age of 12. The FDA needs to ramp up this effort and they need to act quickly,” a spokesperson for the Governor wrote.
The Arizona Board of Regents Chair, Lyndel Manson, said in a statement today-the regents have asked universities to do everything in their power to keep university communities healthy and safe during in person learning.
“As students return to campus this fall, the Arizona Board of Regents has asked the university presidents to do everything in their power to keep our university communities healthy and safe while remaining open and offering an in-classroom experience,” Manson said.
Regina Romero, Tucson Mayor, said she agrees with campuses instituting a mandate.
“I think it’s absolutely appropriate for our school districts and our university system to mandate masks inside buildings,” said Romero.
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