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ASU updates guidelines to 'strongly recommend' masking indoors

In response to new CDC guidance, the University recommends — but is not requiring — all staff and students wear face coverings inside buildings


Masked students walk down Palm Walk on the Tempe campus on Thursday, April 1, 2021. The University announced that the Fall 2021 semester was likely to be on-campus and in-person with just a select few courses available through ASU Sync. 

ASU announced in an email Friday it will be "strongly recommending" all individuals wear face covers inside University buildings, regardless of vaccination status.

The update, sent Friday by University Provost Nancy Gonzales and Chief Financial Officer Morgan Olsen, follows updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance issued Tuesday recommending all individuals, including those fully vaccinated, wear a mask indoors if they are “in an area of substantial or high transmission.”

A county is deemed an area of “high transmission” if there are 100 or more total new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days or if 10% or more of the viral test results received are positive. “Substantial transmission” refers to areas where there are 50 to 99.99 cases per 100,000 or where 8-9.99% of tests results are positive. 

Maricopa County, where ASU's four main campuses are located, is an area of high transmission as of Thursday. 

For now, all other plans for ASU's upcoming fall semester — in-person classes, events and more — remain the same.

On June 15, Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order barring public education institutions from requiring students to upload their vaccination status, get a COVID-19 vaccine and participate in masking and testing. 

In response, ASU issued an update July 6, announcing guidance that vaccines would no longer be “expected” for students prior to the fall semester and recommended unvaccinated students continue to wear masks indoors.

The Friday update made clear that the new recommendation, because of the executive order, is "not making distinctions between the vaccinated and unvaccinated. This will apply to all individuals regardless of their vaccination status."

In response to the CDC's updated guidelines, Ducey doubled down on his earlier orders that stripped schools and universities the ability to enforce a mask or vaccine requirement, and he called any mandate a "discrimination in schools based on who is or isn’t vaccinated."

Ducey said in a statement Tuesday the new CDC guidance "will unfortunately only diminish confidence in the vaccine and create more challenges for public health officials 一 people who have worked tirelessly to increase vaccination rates." 

Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ announced earlier this week the state health department updated its guidelines to mirror the CDC's recommendation for everyone to mask up indoors.

READ MORE: Active COVID-19 cases increase as delta variant spreads

ASU's Friday update said increasing the vaccination rate in the county, according to the CDC, "may help slow transmission" and "if so, the applicable face-covering guidelines may change accordingly."

Joshua LaBaer, executive director of the Biodesign Institute, said the CDC is among the first to know about new data that can change policies. 

"I'm sure the CDC took their decision very seriously when they made that call, and I think ASU is following from them," LaBaer said. 

Senior reporter Morgan Fischer contributed reporting. 

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