Arizona COVID researcher says 90% isn’t enough for mask mandates

December 1, 2020
In The News

When it comes to face mask mandates, 90% isn’t good enough, according to a University of Arizona researcher who’s been sounding the alarm about the rampant spread of COVID-19.

Gov. Doug Ducey has thus far resisted calls for a statewide mask mandate, arguing that existing local requirements, which cover all but 10% of Arizona, are sufficient.

Ducey has promoted mask wearing and authorized an ad campaign encouraging face coverings, but calls for more action on the issue are growing louder as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations surge.

Dr. Joe Gerald, a member of COVID-19 Modeling Team at the University of Arizona, is among those voices.

Gerald told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News on Tuesday that a statewide mandate would do more than just require masks in public throughout Arizona; it would send a strong message about the severity of the situation.

“It’s clear that Gov. Ducey has been reluctant to make this mandate happen and he faces political pressure from within his own party, and for him to break ranks with his party and to put the state’s interest first, I think, would be an important signal to everyone to take this seriously,” Gerald said.

Democratic leaders such as U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman have been publicly calling for a blanket mask requirement to replace the state’s piecemeal legislation.\

Gerald said personal responsibility comes into play, too.

“We, as individual Arizonans, have a responsibility to protect ourselves and to protect others, and achieving a high level of adherence will be necessary for this to work,” he said. “So it’s not enough just to have the policy; but we as Arizonans have to comply with it.”

Arizona has more COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations now than in mid-June, when Ducey gave local governments permission to enact their own mask mandates.

That was a major shift for Ducey, who otherwise has kept rigid control of the statewide coronavirus response since declaring a public health emergency in March.

Communities in most of the state imposed mandates that varied slightly from city to city and county to county, but some orders have since been lifted or allowed to expire. People throughout the Phoenix area remain under the jurisdiction of Maricopa County’s mandate.

“Nearly 90% of the state is under a local mask mandate, and statewide masks are required in restaurants, movie theaters, gyms and more,” Ducey said during a press conference last week.

Arizona, however, remains one of 13 U.S. states without some form of statewide mask requirement.

Gerald’s modeling team would like to see the other 10% covered as part of a series of policy changes, including a shelter-in-place order for three weeks.

Without such moves, Arizona’s hospitals will be completely filled with COVID-19 patients by late December, the team said last week in a letter to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The letter said a lack of action “would be akin to facing a major forest fire without evacuation orders.”

On Monday, Gerald told KTAR News’ Gaydos and Chad that a “storm is coming” without additional mitigation strategies.

“Something has to be done,” he said. “The only wrong thing to do is nothing, and right now we’re not doing very much.”

Arizona reported a record 10,322 new coronavirus cases with 48 more deaths on Tuesday, putting the state’s totals at 337,139 COVID-19 infections and 6,687 fatalities.

Officials attributed the exceptionally high case total, which more than doubled the previous record, to delays in the process of reviewing and reporting results by local health officials over Thanksgiving weekend.

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