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Arizona health and school leaders warn against ending mask mandates

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Arizona health leaders and the state’s top education official are calling for the continuation of face mask requirements to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman and multiple health groups on Wednesday urged cities to keep mask mandates in place, days after requirements were lifted in Lake Havasu City.

“Eliminating these mask mandates will only increase the potential for community spread and place additional burden on our health care delivery system,” Health System Alliance of Arizona Executive Director Jennifer Carusetta said in a press release.

“We urge Arizona leaders to maintain existing mask mandates and COVID-19 mitigation efforts.”

Carusetta’s advocacy group represents major Arizona health care networks such as Banner Health, Dignity Health, HonorHealth, Northern Arizona Healthcare and Tenet Healthcare.

In a separate press release from the state Department of Education, Hoffman said mask mandates will help schools stay open and expand in-person instruction.

“I urge municipal leaders to continue their masking efforts in their communities — and I urge leaders in areas without mask requirements to take action now,” she said.

“Our school communities are depending on continued steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our state.”

The Arizona Department of Health Services provides COVID-19 benchmarks to guide K-12 school reopening plans, but the districts have the final say in whether to allow in-person instruction.

Some districts have resumed traditional schooling, some are offering online-only instruction, and others have adopted hybrid plans that mix virtual and limited on-campus classes.

Face coverings are mandatory in Arizona schools that allow students on campus.

Beyond the schools, there is no statewide mandate.

In June, when a spike in cases was turning Arizona into a coronavirus hot spot, Gov. Doug Ducey granted local governments the authority to make wearing face masks in public mandatory.

Many cities and counties soon implemented mask requirements, but several have lifted them recently as the spread of COVID-19 has declined.

Mayor Cal Sheehy of Lake Havasu City suspended the western Arizona tourist destination’s mandate on Monday, although he promoted the continuation of mask use.

“Public health professionals believe that the best strategy is to wear a face covering or a mask – and I still encourage that,” he said. “But it is just asking our citizens to take personal responsibility and to do what is best for themselves and their family.”

Scottsdale and Gilbert previously ended their mandates, but residents in those cities, and the rest of metro Phoenix, remain under the jurisdiction of Maricopa County’s mask requirement.

Some major businesses, including Walmart and Safeway, have their own face covering requirements.

COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has no impact on some people and is seriously debilitating or fatal for others. Infected people without symptoms – which include but are not limited to cough, fever and difficulty breathing — are capable of spreading the virus.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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