AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File Gov. Doug Ducey speaks at a December 2020 press briefing on the COVID-19 vaccine.
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File

Banner Health said the number of vaccinated people needs to be much higher before even considering such a move. 

Arizona passed a major milestone Thursday with more than 3 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine administered.

And how did Gov. Doug Ducey celebrate? By lifting all of the state’s COVID-19 mitigation measures through an executive order despite guidance from health officials to remain vigilant. 

Under the order, the state will phase out all mask mandates implemented by local governments and counties. Bars can resume regular operations at full capacity and events of more than 50 people will no longer need approval from local governments. 

Businesses are no longer required to implement COVID-19 mitigation practices under Ducey’s order. Instead, they’ll just be recommended. 

But, despite the uptick in vaccinations and the opening of appointments to all residents 16 and older, some officials say it’s too soon.

Health Experts Remain Cautious

Only 1.2 million Arizonans—less than 20% of Arizona adults—are fully vaccinated as of Thursday. 

Arizona’s largest hospital network, Banner Health, said that number needs to be much higher before even considering such a move. 

The Health System Alliance of Arizona—a lobbying alliance of the state’s four largest health systems—said a recent drop in cases isn’t enough to let up precautions now.

“Now is not the time to become complacent and declare victory when the virus is still prominent,” the organization said in a statement, urging residents to continue following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Local Leaders Push Back

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said Ducey’s decision contradicted “the best scientists in the field.”

“The horrible surge last June was only curbed by masking- when the Governor finally allowed cities to do it,” Gallego wrote on Twitter. “To abandon precautions now is like spiking the ball on the 5-yard line.”

“The governor clearly cares a lot less about the people of Arizona than his political future,” she added in a follow-up post.

The executive order strips cities and counties of their ability to maintain their own mask mandates. 

Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said the city won’t comply, essentially telling Ducey he’ll have to take them to court to void Tucson’s mask ordinance. It’s too early and not enough people are vaccinated, she said, which will “jeopardize Arizona lives.” 

“It is unfortunate that Gov. Ducey is caving to political pressure from the far right instead of following the science and doing what’s best for Arizonans,” Romero said in a statement.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs called Ducey’s decision to curb local government’s prevention efforts “infuriating.” 

“Virtually everyone agrees that vaccines and masks are crucial to truly ending this pandemic,” she said in a tweet. “Let’s focus on getting this right instead of getting credit.”

Tempe Mayor Corey Woods said the city still needs to figure out how to proceed, while Flagstaff Mayor Paul Deasy called the end of the mask mandate “dangerous, irresponsible, and premature.”

The order doesn’t affect the mask mandate currently in place in K-12 schools, but Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman encouraged everyone to continue wearing masks in public given the fact that only one in four Arizonans have been vaccinated. 

Arizona Democratic lawmakers also blasted Ducey’s decision, saying it was based on politics instead of science. 

Rep. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, whose father-in-law died of COVID, called the decision “unbelievable” in a tweet

“This is completely irresponsible,” Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, wrote on Twitter. “We in Tucson just lost a dear friend a week ago to COVID. This is clearly a political decision and one that has far too high of a risk to public health.”