On March 25, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey lifted all remaining COVID-19 restrictions. This transition came way too early, as Arizona does not yet have herd immunity due to the fact that people are still getting vaccinated.
Experts are warning we could see another wave of infections if we lift restrictions too soon. Then again, Arizona barely enforced restrictions in the first place.
We never had a statewide mask mandate, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Arizona ranks sixth in the country for COVID-19 cases per 100,000 since January 2020. Since masks prevent the spread of COVID-19, it's possible that not having a statewide mask mandate could be a contributing factor to Arizona's high number of cases and deaths.
ASU researchers have detected a new COVID-19 "variant of interest," but Ducey has moved forward with a prohibition against local and statewide mask mandates, meaning Arizona cities can no longer implement mask mandates.
The lack of a state- or city-wide mask mandate gives anti-maskers justification for their decision to not wear a mask, which puts others at risk. Even though businesses can still decide if they want to implement mask mandates, these types of mandates are not enough.
“I’m a bit worried that they’re lifting this mandate too early, given the number of people that have been vaccinated,” said PJ Saturno, an ASU alumnus and Arizona resident. “I feel that it gives people a false sense of security.”
Despite Ducey's initiative to lift any remaining COVID-19 restrictions in Arizona, ASU is still enforcing necessary protocols, such as testing for the virus, wearing masks and social distancing. ASU decided not to lift any COVID-19 protocols and continues to require masks in campus buildings and outdoor gathering spaces, limit building capacity and offer select classes with virtual learning options.
It is currently unknown what protocols ASU will keep for the Fall 2021 semester, and we are expecting a full return to in-person classes.
“I think ASU has done many things right ... but there are probably more things that they could have done,” Saturno said.
But outside ASU, local bars such as Varsity Tavern, Whiskey Row and many others have eliminated COVID-19 protocols in lieu of Ducey's order. It is irresponsible for these establishments to act like the pandemic is over when it's an ongoing threat.
Although ASU still has restrictions, the fact the rest of the state is beginning to lift restrictions too early, possibly fueling another outbreak, could affect students and faculty. ASU is not a bubble, and many of our community members go to these businesses and events that do not require masks, possibly bringing the virus back to campus.
While vaccines are now more accessible than ever, why not wait to reopen the state fully until the majority of the population is vaccinated?
Luckily, increases in vaccine distribution will hopefully end Arizona's vicious cycle of lifting restrictions and causing COVID-19 cases to climb. However, it is still going to take a while to get everyone vaccinated, so lifting all restrictions now makes no sense.
OPINION: The COVID-19 vaccine should be an on-campus requirement
On a state and federal level, we have previously seen the dangers of lifting COVID-19 restrictions too soon. Arizona made this same mistake back in May, by lifting the stay-at-home order while we were still facing an outbreak. To date, almost 17,000 Arizonans have died from COVID-19.
Unlike other states and countries, Arizona did not put a second lockdown into place. Officials continued to enable this outbreak in the name of “freedom,” while sweeping thousands of deaths under the rug. It was a slap in the face to our hospitals, which almost reached full capacity.
Arizona has been enabling anti-maskers and unsafe behaviors throughout this entire pandemic, which has left a permanent stain on its reputation.
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Haley Tenore is the editor of the State Press Opinion Desk. Tenore is also a digital reporter for Cronkite News and a co-president of the Accessibility Coalition. This is her fourth semester on the opinion desk and second semester as editor.