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Arizona health director recommends face masks for kids returning to school

(File Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – With classes resuming in Arizona and the COVID-19 delta variant surging, the state’s health director is recommending that unvaccinated students – including her own kids – wear face masks at school.

“Our recommendations at the department haven’t changed,” Christ told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show on Wednesday. “If you are unvaccinated, or you are at high risk for bad outcomes due to COVID, you should wear a mask whenever you are with people you don’t live with.”

The Arizona Department of Health Services director also encouraged mask-wearing for other situations.

“Even if you’re vaccinated and you’re going to be with people you don’t know their vaccination status, given delta, we would recommend that you wear a mask when you are out,” Christ said.

While most of the state’s schools don’t start their fall semester until early August, classes started Wednesday in Queen Creek and Chandler. The Higley Unified School District, which also adheres to a “year-round” schedule with a shorter summer break, begins Monday.

Christ said she has two kids who started school Wednesday and aren’t able to be vaccinated.

“They are wearing masks at school,” she said. “That’s what mom has told them they have to do.”

Christ’s preference doesn’t have the power of the law behind it, leaving families with final say on face coverings.

In April, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey rescinded an order that had directed K-12 public and charter schools to require masks. Then last month, the state budget was approved with a provision preventing local jurisdictions, including school boards, from mandating face masks or vaccines as a condition of participating in in-person instruction.

“This really is a choice for families that they have to make,” Christ said. “COVID-19, with the introduction of a vaccine and the ability to wear masks, is becoming an almost completely preventable disease.”

Vaccines are approved for kids as young as 12 and have proven to be highly effective keeping COVID-19, including the highly contagious Delta variant, from spreading and causing serious illness and death. Christ said she expects kids under 12 to become eligible later this year.

“Our message to the public is that this used to be a general pandemic; now it’s becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Christ said.

“Ninety percent of the cases in July were in unvaccinated individuals, 99% of the deaths since January have been in unvaccinated individuals. We highly encourage everyone to get fully vaccinated.”

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are being reported in Arizona at levels not seen since March, but there hasn’t been a similar increase in deaths.

“If I had to predict, and that’s using my crystal ball, I would say we’re probably going to see increasing cases over the next several weeks,” Chris said. “We know delta is here. We know it’s highly transmissible.

“What we would hope is that would encourage more individuals to get vaccinated.”

For details about statewide vaccine availability, the ADHS website has a vaccine-finder page with locations and other information.

For information about metro Phoenix vaccine availability, Maricopa County Public Health has a locator page listing pharmacies, government-run sites, health clinics and pop-up distribution events.

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