Arizona Superintendent, Medical Experts Urge Support For Masks In Schools

By Rocio Hernandez, Matthew Casey
Published: Thursday, September 2, 2021 - 2:12pm
Updated: Friday, September 3, 2021 - 7:58am

In a statement with the American Academy of Pediatrics - Arizona Chapter and the American Hospital and Healthcare Association, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said they agree that children learn best in classrooms, but until COVID-19 has subsided, every possible precaution must be taken to protect the health and safety of everyone.

But a state law that will take effect at the end of the month restricts public schools from requiring masks. Without that option, Hoffman thinks the academic, social and emotional wellbeing of students is in jeopardy.

→ Pediatric COVID-19 Hospitalizations In Arizona Are Still Climbing

"If we proudly call Arizona home, then we have a responsibility to step up and do all we can to slow the spread of COVID-19 before it further impacts the education and health of our students," Hoffman said. 

Kathy Hoffman
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Kathy Hoffman at a news conference on July 23, 2020.

Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas criticized Gov. Doug Ducey for planning to withhold funding from some school districts with mask mandates.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of a public official in Arizona that’s really trying to keep people less safe. And that’s unfortunate that it’s become politicized,” said Thomas.

Thomas says the more infectious delta variant is putting kids at greater risk than the strains.

The academy’s Dr. Jason Vargas recommends all staff and students wear masks indoors.

"Universal masking in the school setting has been shown to greatly reduce the risk of COVID-19 so that schools can safely deliver face-to-face education for children and adults, even when social distancing is difficult," he said in the statement. 

Ann-Marie Alameddin, president and CEO of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, said this comes as local hospitals are either at, nearing or over capacity. 

“Having available health care 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," she said. 

More than 1,000 health care workers also sent a long letter this week to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors explaining why it should require masks in K-12 schools.

Board members say they appreciate the note.

The large group of healthcare professionals with a broad range of jobs live and work in Maricopa County.

→ Arizona Pediatrician: 'Kids Are Getting Sicker From COVID-19'

Their letter calls on the Board of Supervisors to not let politics keep it  from requiring universal masking at every school in Arizona’s most populous county.

They write that every tool is needed to control the surge of COVID-19 cases driven by the delta variant, and they cite the county’s own research showing that roughly 17%  of local infections are in kids not old enough to be vaccinated.

A board spokesperson released a statement.

“Members of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors appreciate the letter from professionals in our medical community.  They share the same concerns about the rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Maricopa County which is why the Board had experts from the Department of Public Health present the latest data and information in a public meeting on Monday.  Members have encouraged residents to use mitigation tactics to protect themselves and others and they will continue to support the role Public Health plays as the department works with schools, healthcare professionals and the broader community.”

→ List: Arizona School Districts Requiring Masks For 2021-2022 School Year

KJZZ's Reyna Preciado contributed to this report.

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