Many Arizonans are asking questions after Gov. Doug Ducey suddenly lifted COVID-19 restrictions on Thursday, including largely stripping away local mask mandates.
Mask requirements put in place by many cities and counties across the state can no longer be enforced, according to the governor’s order.
Some health experts caution that COVID-19 is not over and that masks should remain a part of daily life until far more people are vaccinated, in order to keep case counts low and prevent the spread of more infectious variants. But we could be seeing fewer masks on city streets and in businesses as mandates are weakened.
Here’s what we know about how the new rules may impact you:
Do you still need to wear a mask? The CDC says yes. Gov. Ducey’s order says it depends.
In most places, individual businesses can decide whether to require masks.
Arizona counties, cities and towns can no longer enforce their mask mandates, except in government buildings and on public transportation.
There’s a federal order that requires masks be worn at airports and stations and on planes, trains, buses and other public transportation anywhere in the U.S. Uber and Lyft also require drivers and passengers to wear masks.
In his tweet outlining the lift in restrictions, Ducey encouraged Arizonans to continue personal COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
“Practice the fundamentals. Wear a mask, practice physical distancing, stay home when sick, wash your hands frequently AND roll up your sleeve and get the vaccine — it’s safe, effective and free,” he wrote.
Ducey said masks are still “encouraged, especially in groups that are not vaccinated.”
Medical experts say everyone should keep wearing masks until more people are vaccinated.
“COVID-19 mitigation strategies work. Arizona would not be in the position it is in right now without the combination of reduced business capacity, mask mandates, and social distancing requirements. We urge Arizonans to continue to follow CDC guidelines to reduce community spread and alleviate the additional burden on our health care delivery system,” the Health System Alliance of Arizona said in a statement about Ducey’s order.
From a public health perspective, it’s too soon to lift the mitigation efforts, as not enough people are vaccinated and variants can spread, according to Dr. Farshad Fani Marvasti, a physician and associate professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine Phoenix.
“I think we are setting a very dangerous precedent where we could basically face the same kind of consequences that we faced nearly a year ago when the governor did not allow these localities to have their own mandates in place,” he said. “We’re still not completely out of this.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to emphasize mask-wearing. Even fully vaccinated people should wear masks in public places to avoid possibly spreading the virus, the CDC says.
Justifying the reason for removing local mask mandates, Ducey said local mandates “have rarely, if ever, been enforced.”
Mandates are now thrown out the window, with the governor preventing localities from enforcing any rules around masks other than in government buildings and transportation.
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego tweeted after Ducey’s announcement that his decision “directly contradicts the best scientists in the field,” saying that the summer surge was “only curbed by masking” when Ducey allowed localities to implement mandates.
“To abandon precautions now is like spiking the ball on the 5-yard line,” Gallego tweeted.
Businesses do not have to require masks but can if they choose. The business guidelines around masks and social distancing were previously requirements, but as of Thursday, they are just recommendations.
The governor’s order explicitly says that businesses are able to require masks and social distancing.
“(Businesses) maintain the right to institute and enforce policies to mitigate against COVID-19 spread including the use of face coverings and physical distancing, and retain the right to refuse service to those who do not comply with the policies,” the order reads.
Masks are still required in all K-12 schools, state superintendent Kathy Hoffman confirmed Thursday on Twitter.
The emergency measure from the Arizona Department of Health Services requiring masks at public schools will continue despite the governor’s change, per Hoffman.
“I’m relieved to hear this as masking is one of the top mitigation strategies for safe in-person learning as recommended by the @CDCgov,” she wrote.
Ducey’s rollback of mask mandates won’t impact mask rules on airplanes and in airports.
Airports and commercial airplanes are required to mandate masks, according to January executive orders from President Joe Biden that require people to wear masks in federal buildings and on public transportation.
That applies to anyone older than 2 in airports and on planes and other public transportation. Violators can face fines.
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport each confirmed Thursday they will still require masks.
Masks still are required at state-run vaccine sites, Arizona Department of Health Services spokesperson Steve Elliott confirmed Thursday.
The five vaccine sites operated by the state are State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona State University’s Phoenix Municipal Stadium in Tempe, Chandler-Gilbert Community College in the southeast Valley, the University of Arizona in central Tucson, and, as of March 29, Yuma Civic Center in Yuma County. Some will move indoors starting in April due to rising temperatures.
Click here to read the Governor’s full executive order.