PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey has forbade public universities and community colleges from requiring that students and staff 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 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.
The University of Arizona has had a virtually identical policy, allowing non-vaccinated students on campus but only if they wear masks and get tested once a week.
And Northern Arizona University has required that everyone on campus wear a mask and maintain at least six 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.
"So we expect vaccinations," he said on KTAR radio before the governor's edict. And for those who don't, Crow said the school expects students to follow the guidelines laid out by the federal Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, "which are quite clear."
The governor's order also extends to all community colleges, overriding any mask mandates and testing requirements they have in place for non-vaccinated students. And he is working with Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, who first raised alarm about the ASU policy, to codify the executive order into statute.
"The vaccine works, and we encourage Arizonans to take it," Ducey said in prepared remarks. "But it is a choice and we need to keep it that way."
In a separate Twitter post, the governor called the policies "social engineering at its worst."
Health policy should be based on science, not virtue signaling," the governor wrote, the practice of publicly expressing opinions to communicate the good character of the speaker.
That's the same verbiage being used nationally 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 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 inoculated was too much for not just the governor but for several legislators.
It was Shope, 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 — actually mandates people get vaccinated. But he said the additional requirements imposed on those not vaccinated are 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 staff — was precisely one of the reasons the university adopted the policy. She said there is a belief 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.
In fact, the most recent number is 48.1%. And in Maricopa County, where the campuses are located, it's just 32.8%.
"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."
Holly Jensen defended the similar policy at the University of Arizona, saying it, too, closely tracks with the CDC recommendations.
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."
Former state Health Director Will Humble said the governor should not have overridden policies at the universities.
"What it does is provide an incentive for those students that haven't been vaccinated yet to do it," said Humble, now executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association. "Because if they do get vaccinated, the fall semester will be less of a pain because they have certain things that they won't have to comply with."
And Humble said he does not view the policy as improper government coercion.
"Your stick is my carrot," he responded. Humble said it also helps schools by having one set of rules to manage the risk among those who are vaccinated and separate rules for those who are not.
"It's pure political posturing for a future Republican primary," Humble said, referring to speculation that Ducey has his eye on national office after he is no longer governor.
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.
Other GOP legislators also have weighed in.
Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said that telling students to get vaccinated or wear and mask and get tested twice a week "is not really a choice."
"Who would do that?" he told Capitol Media Services, calling it a "Hobson's choice" between two unacceptable alternatives.
Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, specifically called the ASU policy "blatantly discriminatory" and "troubling."
"It's important that this tyrannical policy must not prevent any Arizonan from accessing our state university system," he said.