Arizona’s 3 public universities to require face coverings in classrooms

Aug 11, 2021, 11:21 AM | Updated: Aug 12, 2021, 9:39 am
(University Photos)...
(University Photos)
(University Photos)

PHOENIX – Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University, the state’s three public universities, on Wednesday each updated their COVID-19 policies to add classrooms to the list of places where face coverings will be required when classes start in the coming weeks.

Arizona State University’s mitigation procedures were updated to require face coverings in certain indoor settings where physical distancing may not be possible, including classrooms and teaching or research labs.

The university also said it’s requiring face coverings in the following locations where physical distancing isn’t possible:

  • All clinical programs and centers that serve the general public, on or off campus, such as the ASU Health Centers, Child Development Laboratory and Counselor Training Center.
  • Meeting rooms, workshops, design or production studios and other indoor settings where social distancing is not possible.
  • Any other indoor areas with signs posted to indicate masks are required.

The update comes just as freshmen started checking into student housing in advance of the first day of classes Aug. 19. ASU expects to have 75,000 students on campus.

The mask requirement might also be extended to “some crowded outdoor settings or activities that involve sustained close contact with other people.”

Northern Arizona University, after ASU’s announcement, said it would require everyone – regardless of vaccination status – to wear a mask indoors at all NAU facilities, including all classrooms and teaching or research labs and other indoor and outdoor settings where physical distancing may not be possible.

The University of Arizona followed Wednesday night with Robert C. Robbins, the university’s president, in a statement saying “based on the current health conditions and aligned with CDC guidance as well as our commitment to deliver in-person learning at the University of Arizona, we will require face masks be worn in all indoor spaces where it is not possible to adequately and continuously maintain social distance.”

Robbins said more details would be shared in the upcoming week.

Classes are set to get underway at both the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University on Aug. 23.

An ASU spokesman told KTAR News 92.3 FM the universtiy’s policy complies with state regulations because it does not differentiate between vaccinated and unvaccinated students.

“The university continues to recommend strongly that people get vaccinated, and ASU continues to provide COVID-19 vaccines free of charge to students, faculty and staff,” the update says.

“Greater rates of vaccination are the best tool available to reduce the rate of transmission in the community, which could change the applicable face covering guidance.”

When asked about ASU’s new policy, prior to NAU and UA announcing similar plans, Gov. Doug Ducey said through a spokesman that he opposes mandates, although he didn’t challenge the legality of the move.

“Gov. Ducey is not supportive of mandates or virtue signaling,” C.J. Karamargin, Ducey’s director of communications, said in an email to KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“Rather than creating new mandates, the focus should be on promoting vaccinations — the vaccine is widely available, and proven effective. We’re not anti-mask; we’re anti-mandate.”

Based on new data about the fast-spreading delta variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that even vaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings.

Wednesday’s mask update was ASU’s second in less than two weeks as the state’s COVID-19 case and hospitalization numbers surge.

A July 30 update included mandates in certain health care centers and on campus shuttles, exemptions permitted by the state, but at the time the school only went as far as “strongly recommending” that everybody wears face masks inside other buildings.

On June 15, Ducey issued an executive order declaring that public universities and community colleges can’t require face coverings or vaccines as a condition of class participation “if a person chooses not to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine or disclose that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.”

Ducey gave the order to block ASU from implementing a planned face mask requirement anywhere on campus plus mandatory twice-weekly COVID-19 testing for people who aren’t vaccinated or who don’t report their vaccination status.

Language similar to the executive order was also included as a provision in a state budget bill passed in June:

The Arizona Board of Regents, a public university or a community college may not require that a student obtain a COVID-19 vaccination or show proof of receiving a COVID-19 vaccination or place any conditions on attendance or participation in classes or academic activities, including mandatory testing or face covering usage, if the person chooses not to obtain a COVID-19 vaccination or disclose whether the person has been vaccinated against COVID-19, unless the vaccination or other mandate is required by the laws of this state.

The June 15 executive order will remain active until the law goes into effect Sept. 29.

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Arizona’s 3 public universities to require face coverings in classrooms