The Skinny: Why is Ducey acting so dumb about masks?

Gov. Doug Ducey last week expressed outrage that the Biden administration would advise Arizonans to wear seat belts.

"The CDC today is recommending that we wear seatbelts in cars, regardless of whether we have airbags," Ducey said. "This is just another example of the Biden-Harris administration's inability to effectively confront highway safety."

Just kidding! Ducey actually said something last week just as dumb regarding masks and vaccines: "The CDC today is recommending that we wear masks in school and indoors, regardless of our vaccination status. This is just another example of the Biden-Harris administration's inability to effectively confront the COVID-19 pandemic."

Governor, please: You're the one who allowed Arizona to become a global hotspot—twice!—before Joe Biden was in the White House. You're the one who blocked Pima County's efforts to work with the CDC to open vaccination clinics in low-income and minority neighborhoods. You're the one who signed legislation preventing local authorities—including school districts—from enacting mask mandates. And you're the one who will be to blame if this third wave that's rising in Arizona ends up spreading the Delta variant across school campuses—which has already started in the Vail School District, our local canary in the COVID mine. Your leadership on this issue has been simply appalling.

Ducey complained last week that CDC guidance encouraging people to wear masks was "mixed messaging" that hurt the effort to get the spread of the virus under control. Ducey said the real solution is getting more people vaccinated. While it's true that getting more shots in arms will reduce the spread of the disease and result in fewer hospitalizations, state and local officials are struggling to persuade the vaccine-hesitant to get a shot. Just over half of all Arizonans have gotten at least one shot and we are back to high spread across most of the state. (Pima County is just at substantial spread as The Skinny goes to press, but if current trends hold, we'll likely join the rest of the state before long in the high-transmission category.)

Ducey himself has done plenty of mixed messaging when it comes to the virus—remember when he assured us we were "clearly on the other side of this pandemic" in May 2020, right before Arizona became a global hot spot for the first time last summer? But his many missteps aside, Ducey's push to discourage people from wearing masks is truly puzzling.

Very few people like wearing the damn things, but it sure beats ending up with COVID or spreading disease to others, especially when kids can't yet get the shot. Even Dr. Cara Christ, who heads up the Arizona Department of Health, says she wants her kids masking up in the classroom.

"Two of my three children are too young to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and that's why they returned to public school today wearing masks," Christ wrote on the ADHS website. "ADHS recommends the same for all unvaccinated individuals when they are around people they don't live with. It wasn't the most popular decision to my two kiddos, but it's one that will protect their health and the health of those around them."

That sounds like some mixed messaging coming from Christ. Is it a coincidence that she's is now leaving her gig atop the state's health agency to take a leadership job at Blue Cross Blue Shield?

We're not likely to know the answer to that question, but former ADHS Director Will Humble, who is now the executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, noted that Christ's recent disagreement with Ducey over whether school districts could require unvaccinated students who have been exposed to COVID to quarantine was "the very first time I've ever seen her disagree with anything the governor has said or done."

Humble also forecasted legal action between the state and school districts over the state's new law forbidding school districts from requiring masks, especially after Phoenix Union School District said they would defy the law and require masks in schools.

So why is Ducey so opposed to masks? His "mixed messaging" argument doesn't really make sense. It's fair to wonder if he's just trying to pander to the GOP base that has such a problem with masking up. And if it's politics that is driving his opposition, he's putting children's health at risk in order to kiss up to the anti-science wing of his party. If that's the case, he may have a political future—but he doesn't deserve one.