PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - The Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kathy Hoffman, believes Gov. Doug Ducey's position on masks has created avoidable outbreaks in the state's public schools.
"I do - 100 percent," was Kathy Hoffman's response, when asked if the governor's anti-mask mandates policies have led outbreaks that should not have occurred.
Last week, AZFamily's political editor Dennis Welch asked Ducey if he was satisfied with the rise in COVID cases among young people in Arizona. Roughly one thousand people under the age of 20 are testing positive for COVID each day in the state.
"The tool that we have. The solution is the vaccine. That's the fact," said Ducey.
But the governor did not address what to do about children under the age of 12, who are not eligible for the COVID vaccine at this time.
“We all know the past year and a half was probably the most challenging of these students lives.”
This summer, Ducey signed an executive order that banned public schools and universities from requiring students and staff from wearing masks. Later in the summer, he signed a law with similar restrictions on mask mandates.
But the law does not take effect until the end of September, and it is facing a court challenge. Meantime, roughly 30 school districts, along with the state's three universities, have gone ahead and required masks.
"It was not a difficult decision," said LeeAnn Aguilar Lawlor, PhD, who is the superintendent of the Cartwright Elementary School District. That district requires students to wear masks.
Aguilar Lawlor said she and the school board agreed that masks and social distancing were the only way to ensure that in-person learning would continue through the pandemic.
"I feel very confident that the reason we haven't had an outbreak, and we are a very large district, is because of the mitigation strategies - the masks," said Aguilar Lawlor.
The Cartwright District has 16,020 students, and currently has 26 positive cases. That's 0.16 percent of the student body. Compare that to the J.O. Combs Unified School District, which does not require masks. Combs has just 4,549 students and 22 positive cases.
"To me, wearing a mask is such a simple way to add one more mitigation strategy," said Hoffman.
When asked if she believed masks are reducing outbreaks in schools, Hoffman said yes. "Just looking at the data, 100 percent yes," she said.
Hoffman points to the Scottsdale District which reduced its positive cases to just 34 last week, out of a total of 22,360 students.
But not every school district with a mask mandate is doing as well. The Tucson Unified District requires masks. Mesa Public Schools does not. Both currently have 0.22 percent of the student body with active COVID infections.