PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey has forbidden public universities and community colleges from requiring that students and staffers wear masks and get tested regularly for COVID-19.
In an executive order Tuesday, the governor specifically lashed out at the policy announced by Arizona State University requiring that students be vaccinated before returning to class in the fall.
That policy is not absolute. But Ducey pointed out it says those who are not inoculated or choose not to share that information “will be subject to invasive restrictions such as daily health checks, twice weekly testing and mandated mask wearing.’’
That, the governor said, is unacceptable.
“No person should be compelled to disclose to a governmental entity as a condition of attending classes, receiving services or participating in activities without a demonstrated compelling need,’’ he wrote in his executive order.
He acknowledged that COVID-19 is “highly contagious.” But he said that it does not have the kind of transmission characteristics that would meet requirements for mandated vaccines.
And Ducey said while getting one of the vaccines that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration under its Emergency Use Authorization is “strongly encouraged, it is not and will not be mandated by the state of Arizona.”
Ducey’s new order affects more than ASU.
Holly Jensen at the University of Arizona said her school has a virtually identical policy, allowing non-vaccinated students on campus but only if they wear masks and get tested regularly.
Northern Arizona University, while having no specific policy on vaccinations, requires that everyone on campus wear a mask and maintain at least 6 feet of physical distancing.
But none of the schools is planning to contest Ducey’s edict.
“We will comply with the governor’s executive order and continue to monitor our public health conditions to help ensure the health and well-being of our students, faculty and staff,’’ said Pam Scott, a UA vice president.
ASU also won’t fight the order despite comments earlier in the day by President Michael Crow defending the school’s policy as providing freedom of choice.
The order also extends to all community colleges.
“The vaccine works,” Ducey said in a Twitter post.
“But the vaccine is a choice,” calling the policy “social engineering at its worst,” he continued. “Health policy should be based on science, not virtue signaling.”
That’s the same verbiage being used by some elements of the Republican Party to eliminate any kinds of mask mandates. And it isn’t Ducey’s first foray into the battle.
In March, he barred local governments from imposing mask mandates except in public building and on mass transit.
In April, he lifted the mask mandate that had existed for public schools. But in that case, he left the decision to local school officials — something that his new executive order says s is not an option for colleges and universities.
“Public education is a public right, and taxpayers are paying for it,” the governor said in a prepared statement with his new order.
“We need to make our public universities available for students to return to learning,’’ he continued. “They have already missed out on too much learning.”
While none of the colleges actually mandates that students, staff or visitors be vaccinated, just the restrictions on those who are not was too much for not just the governor but for several legislators.
It was Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, an ASU graduate himself, who first raised the issue on Monday.
He cited a note to new students for the fall semester from Joanne Vogel, vice president of student services. That laid out the requirement for unvaccinated students or those who don’t share inoculation information to get tested twice a week, submit a daily health check and wear face covers in all indoor and outdoor spaces on ASU campuses.
Shope told Capitol Media Services he realizes that nothing in this policy — or the ones at the other two universities — mandates that people get vaccinated. But he said the additional requirements imposed on those not vaccinated is improper.
“The twice-weekly testing, I feel that’s a bit onerous for folks that are going to school,’’ Shope said. “We need to get to a point here where we recognize, especially the student population that’s there, is probably the least susceptible to succumbing to this.”
Shope brushed aside questions of whether young people, even though they’re less likely to get seriously ill, can still be carriers who can spread the disease to those who are more vulnerable.
“I think the science is still out,” he said.
But ASU spokeswoman Katie Paquet said the idea of halting the spread — and not just among other students and staffers — was precisely one of the reasons the university adopted the policy. She said there is a belief that the school needs to protect the community at large.
“We are living in a state where, what, about half the population is vaccinated, maybe not quite there yet?” Paquet said.
“We know that our students are not confined to the borders of ASU,” she continued. “They live and they go out into the broader community so we wanted to make sure that we’re taking steps to protect the unvaccinated.”
Jensen defended the similar policy at the UA, saying it closely tracks with the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.
It requires not just testing but also says that non-vaccinated individuals must wear face coverings in all classrooms and other group instructional settings. Masks also are requiring outdoor “where continuous physical distancing of at least six feet is difficult or impossible to maintain.’’
Shope said he doesn’t see why there is a need for special treatment of students who won’t get vaccinated against COVID.
“We don’t test for many things that are contagious, especially in a dorm setting,’’ he said.
“I’m not sure where we draw the line at on this,’’ Shope continued. “And I think that’s what the concern is for me, especially on a twice-weekly (basis).’’
There are exceptions in Ducey’s order.
Students who are participating in clinical studies at hospitals, nursing homes and similar facilities can be required to provide proof of vaccination and be subject to regular screening.
It also allows universities to require testing if there is a “significant’’ outbreak of the virus in student housing that poses a risk to students or staff. But even then, the school must first get approval from the Department of Health Services.