PHOENIX — Facing a slowing rate of Arizonans getting vaccinated, Gov. Doug Ducey has tapped former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona to be his new senior health advisor on COVID matters.
But don’t look for the Tucson physician and 2012 Democratic candidate for U.S. senator to challenge the Republican governor’s beliefs that schools and universities should be prohibited from requiring students and staff to wear masks. Carmona said he accepts the facts as they now stand, what with the legislature banning such mandates and the governor signing them into law and now seeking to enforce those prohibitions.
“That’s probably is not something that I would have supported,’’ he told Capitol Media Services of the legislation.
“But that’s the way it is,’’ continued Carmona who currently is a professor of public health at the University of Arizona College of Public Health. “My sense is the futile debate about mask mandates, anything mandates, is not helping us advance the public health of the state.’’
Ditto any talk about state-mandated vaccines.
“The perils of a democracy are often trying to balance the rights of the individual versus the collective right of society,’’ he said. Carmona said he dealt with that as surgeon general when he was dealing with people who want to smoke “but we know it’s deadly.’’
He said the answer is doing “everything we can’’ to get people vaccinated. Carmona said it makes no sense to continue to debate about mandates and politics.
The move comes as the governor tapped Don Harrington, a 20-plus year employee of the Department of Health Services, to serve as its acting director. For the moment, he replaces Dr. Cara Christ who resigned to take a job at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Arizona.
Her last day was Friday.
It also comes amid increased criticism of both Ducey and Christ by doctors who say the state should allow school boards to mandate masks in public schools, particularly as those younger than 12 are unable to be vaccinated.
Both the governor and his now soon-to-be-former health director have supported taking that power from school boards. Instead, they contend this instead should be an individual decision by parents.
And Ducey signed legislation which, beginning Sept. 29, makes such orders by school boards illegal, though there are legal challenges to the validity of that law.
Gubernatorial press aide C.J. Karamargin said the creation of this new slot has nothing to do with the debate over masks.
He said the key purpose behind Carmona’s appointment is to try to boost the state’s vaccination rate. About 55% of Arizonans have received at least one dose, a figure that according to the Mayo Clinic is about five points below the national average. And fewer than half of all Arizonans are fully inoculated.
“That number needs to go up,’’ Karamargin said. “Dr. Carmona and Don Harrington are going to help us bring those numbers up.’’