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By Meredith Joubert, member, DSC Conference Board of Church & Society

On July 27, 2021, Governor Ducey signed legislation that bans mask mandates for Arizona schools. This ban has fueled a debate between the value of individual freedoms over the collective good. Governor Ducey says it should be a choice made by individual parents. He has threatened to withhold funding from school districts that require masks.

Debates over masks have led to emotionally-charged school board meetings, fights amongst adults, and incidents of vigilante justice taken into the hands of parents on school campuses.

What we know about Covid has changed since the current policies were created. Dr. Joe Gerald, University of Arizona Public Health Policy Professor, was reported saying on kvoa.com dated August 20, 2021, that “the last time Arizona saw numbers this high was late November 2020, just before the winter surge.” Dr. Gerald states that we can prevent deaths “by returning to previous mitigation efforts, like social distancing and mask use”, which will help slow transmission. He continues to say, “without some sort of policy intervention, it is hard to see us not heading towards another large outbreak.” He cautions that the fate of the outbreak is entirely on us.

Arizona Department of Health Services reports on August 27, 2021, that case rates are currently highest among those 15-24 years old. Rates among those under 15 years have almost surpassed those of adolescents and young adults. Dr. Joe Gerald states that transmission among children under age 15 is “poised to surpass rates among all other groups for the first time during the pandemic.” High community transmission, inadequate vaccination, prohibited masking, and inadequate testing is likely the cause. (https://publichealth.arizona.edu/news/2021/covid-19-forecast-model)

Bishop Hoshibata in concert with The Desert Southwest Conference Board of Church & Society has written a letter to Governor Ducey to request a mandatory mask mandate for Arizona schools. This will also help serve as a call for us to come together, despite our differences of opinions, and be an example.

You can take an action step, too! Write a letter to your elected state officials and local school boards and request universal masking in Arizona schools. Use your own words to share your concerns, or include this wording: As a United Methodist, I believe that church and society must support and advocate for the well-being of all children and young people. My belief as a Christian is that we are to love one another and protect vulnerable people, and wearing masks is a tangible reflection of our love for our fellow humans. Scientific evidence shows that the Delta variant is more transmissible and contagious than previous variants and that children are being affected at greater rates than first believed. Because of this new knowledge, I urge you to pass a mandatory mask mandate for all Arizona schools effective September 10, 2021 through December 31, 2021.

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