PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey is doubling down on his refusal to reimpose mitigation measures to help slow the increasing spread of COVID-19.
The governor said Friday he is relying on people getting the vaccine as the primary way to deal with the fact that new infections are now back to where they were in the middle of February. And while daily deaths generally remain in the single-digit range, there has been an upswing in the number of Arizonans hospitalized with the virus.
Ducey, in prepared statements, said he is focusing on the availability of the vaccine as a method where people can protect themselves. And he said that businesses are open, students are back in the classroom and the economy is booming.
“We’re going to keep it that way,’’ he said. “We will not be listening to the lockdown lobby.’’
And if that message isn’t clear, the governor spelled it out.
“Businesses will stay open, students will be able to attend school,’’ Ducey continued. And he said “there will be no mask mandate.’’
But the governor’s position goes beyond refusing to mandate the use of masks. Press aide C.J. Karamargin said Ducey remains convinced that public schools, community colleges, universities and local governments should also be barred from imposing their own mask requirements, regardless of local conditions.
Instead, he said, it should remain a personal option.
“Any Arizonan can wear a mask if they choose,’’ Karamargin said, including students in schools.
For the governor, Exhibit No. 1 is the state health director. She said her two youngest children, both younger than 12 and unable to be vaccinated, returned to school but under her directive to wear masks while they are there.
Karamargin brushed aside questions of why his boss will not allow school districts to conclude that students — particularly those who are unvaccinated — should be wearing masks.
“Mandates don’t work,’’ he said.
All this relates to the question of whether the efforts to get Arizonans vaccinated will work.
As of Thursday, slightly more than 3.3 million people were fully protected, either with the dual doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. That comes out to only about 46.4% of total state population.
The unvaccinated do include anyone younger than 12 as the government has not yet approved the vaccine for those age groups. But it also includes a substantial number of adults who, for whatever reason, will not get inoculated.
What makes that critical is the health department reports that about 95% of COVID cases in May were among the unvaccinated. That figure was 92% last month and is 90% so far this month.
Ducey said the state will never mandate that people get vaccinated.
But he has gone beyond that.
The governor issued an executive order last month barring universities and community colleges from inquiring among students and staff about their vaccine status or requiring those who are not inoculated to wear a mask. That has since been incorporated into state law, as has the ban on public schools requiring students or faculty to wear a mask to participate in in-person instruction.
But the Institute for Health Metrics Evaluation is saying those decisions will have implications.
Its scientists say the number of deaths, at 18,144 as of Friday, will hit 20,770 by Nov. 1 using current projections and no change in policies. By contrast, IHME said a universal mask policy would cut that to 18,674 by the same date.