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CDC: Even vaccinated should wear masks inside in public, schools as Delta COVID threat grows

'Masking is going to be a part of people’s lives' — CDC director

With millions of students and teachers returning to school, the CDC said that everyone — even those who are vaccinated — should wear masks inside in public buildings in places like Arizona with still spreading COVID-19 infections, as the number of cases of the Delta variant increases.

People living in areas with "substantial" or "high" community spread of the disease should resume wearing masks indoors outside of their homes, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, announced Friday, saying that she knows the renewed public health measure is "not a welcome piece of news."

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who signed a law last month barring schools and local governments from requiring masks in public, said his approach "will not change" and took shots at the Biden administration over masks and vaccine jabs. Local officials said they're looking at how to heed the CDC's new guidance.

More than 60 percent of counties across the country are still seeing sustained levels of new coronavirus infections, CDC data shows.

In Arizona, Pima County, along with Maricopa and Pinal counties, and every other area of the state except Yuma and Cochise counties, are still experiencing "substantial" or "high" levels of new infections, with numbers increasing among the large number of people still not vaccinated.

"In recent days I have seen new scientific data from recent outbreak investigations showing that that Delta variant behaves uniquely differently from past strains of the virus that cause COVID-19," Walensky told reporters during a news conference Tuesday.

"This weighs heavily on me," Walensky said. "I know that at 18 months through this pandemic, not only are people tired, they're frustrated. We have mental health challenges in this country. We have a lot of continued sickness and death in this country. Our health systems are in some places being overrun for what is preventable and I know, in the context of all that, it is not a welcome piece of news that masking is going to be a part of people’s lives who have already been vaccinated."

Pima County officials said Tuesday that they are reviewing the new guidance from the federal government.

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The current CDC recommendations include:

  • All people, including those who are fully vaccinated, should wear masks while inside in public buildings, if they live in areas with "substantial" or "high" spread of COVID.
  • All students, teachers, staff and visitors should wear masks inside schools, regardless of their vaccination status.
  • People who are not vaccinated should wear masks, regardless of the community spread where they live.

Pima County has had "substantial" spread over the last seven days, with 681 new cases — an increase of nearly 30% over the preceding week. Santa Cruz County is also classified as having "substantial" spread.

To start July, the level of community spread in Pima County was determined to be "moderate," but the recent increase in the number of new infections has changed that metric.

Maricopa, Pinal, Yavapai, Gila, Mohave, Navajo and Apache counties are all classified even worse, with "high" spread, according to the CDC.

More than 18,000 Arizonans have died from COVID-19, with 12 new deaths added to the total on Tuesday.

In Pima County, more than 2,450 people have died from the coronavirus.

There have been nearly 120,000 reported cases in the county — with 58 new reported infections on Tuesday. Across the state, there have been more than 920,000 confirmed positive cases of coronavirus since the pandemic began last year. 1,475 new Arizona cases were reported Tuesday.

Ducey, Az Republicans blocked requiring masks in schools

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Republicans in the state Legislature have outlawed mandatory face-coverings in schools.

Ducey signed a law in June that "prevents schools from requiring student and staff vaccinations, and makes it clear that wearing a face covering at school is an individual choice — not a mandate," he said. He also signed a similar bill that keeps public colleges and universities from establishing their own mandates

Ducey reiterated his stance Tuesday in response to the CDC's announcement.

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"Arizona does not allow mask mandates, vaccine mandates, vaccine passports or discrimination in schools based on who is or isn't vaccinated. We've passed all of this into law, and it will not change," he said.

The move to bar requiring masks was blasted by some public health and education advocates last month.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, an elected Democrat, did so again Tuesday, calling on Ducey "to follow the guidance of public health experts and give schools back their local decision-making authority to set policies for safe in-person instruction."

"The CDC is once again recommending schools, teachers, and students wear a mask if attending in-person school regardless of vaccination status," Hoffman said. "We know masks work and with rising cases, they're a vital part of our effort to reduce everyone's COVID-19 risks."

"I encourage teachers, administrators, and families to listen to the CDC and take individual action to keep themselves and each other safe by wearing a mask during in-person school," she said. "Students, teachers, and parents are ready to get back to in-person learning, but it takes all of us."

In the Tucson area, students in the Vail Unified School District have already returned to in-person classes for the fall semester. In the Tucson Unified School District, Flowing Wells, Amphitheater, Sunnyside and other area districts, classes are due to begin August 5. Catalina Foothills students will return to class August 9, while Marana students are due back in class on August 2.

Tens of thousands of students at the University of Arizona are set to return to campus also, with classes beginning August 23.

Heinz calls for renewed public health emergency

Pima County should "re-declare a public health emergency in light of all of the new information," said County Supervisor Matt Heinz, who is a medical doctor practicing at a local hospital. Heinz cited concerns about the Delta variant, along with "cases and hospitalizations on the rise, and schools about to reconvene."

Last week, Supervisor Sharon Bronson said that she would favor requiring all county employees to be vaccinated — a move that local officials had considered and not taken last winter.

Bronson said that she would bring the matter up again at the next meeting of the Board of Supervisors, set for August 10.

Heinz said Tuesday that he wants the supervisors to take action on requiring masks in public, "especially regarding school staff and children under 12 who are not yet vaccine-eligible."

Biden: 'Promised to be straight with you'

President Joe Biden said he hopes "all Americans who live in the areas covered by the CDC guidance will follow it."

When I ran for president, I promised to be straight with you about COVID – good news or bad," he said in a statement released by the White House.

The shifts in CDC guidance are caused by the changing public health situation, said Jen Psaki, Biden's press secretary.

"The reality is we are dealing with a much different strain of this virus than we were even earlier in the spring, back in May, when the masking guidance was provided by the CDC at that time," Psaki said. "That is their job. Their job is to look at evolving information, evolving data, an evolving historic pandemic and provide guidance to the American public."

Ducey takes shots at Biden over masks, jabs

"The CDC today is recommending that we wear masks in school and indoors, regardless of our vaccination status," said Ducey. "This is just another example of the Biden-Harris administration's inability to effectively confront the COVID-19 pandemic."

""Public health officials in Arizona and across the country have made it clear that the best protection against COVID-19 is the vaccine," said Ducey. "Today's announcement by the CDC will unfortunately only diminish confidence in the vaccine and create more challenges for public health officials 一 people who have worked tirelessly to increase vaccination rates."

"Here in Arizona, we've been consistent from the beginning: Arizonans should get this vaccine," the governor said. "Over 51 percent of our population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, and over 46 percent are fully vaccinated. That's great news, and we're going to continue to work to distribute this vaccine to Arizonans and build public confidence in its effectiveness, despite this unnecessary and unhelpful 'guidance' from Washington, D.C."

In Arizona, about 3.7 million people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and about 51.7 percent of people have received at least one vaccination, according to state data. In Pima County, more than 70 percent of people eligible to get the vaccine have received at least one dose, however, children under 12 cannot be vaccinated pending an approval by the FDA.

This leaves more than 24,000 kids in TUSD alone unable to receive a vaccination against the virus, according to enrollment data from the district.

Throughout the pandemic, more than 149,000 people aged 20 or below were infected by COVID-19 across the state, including about 19,000 in Pima County, state data shows.

Of the nearly 13,000 new Arizona cases reported in June, 92.4 percent "were among those who weren't vaccinated or weren't fully vaccinated," state health director Dr. Cara Christ said two weeks ago. "All this points to a fundamental truth: Vaccines are demonstrating their effectiveness at preventing serious cases and deaths from COVID-19 and providing the strongest possible argument for the benefits of vaccination."

"We’ve reached the point where severe cases and deaths from COVID-19 are almost entirely preventable," Christ said.

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A teacher in Tucson gets a COVID-19 vaccination during a clinic at Tucson Medical Center in January

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