UArizona Health Director Recommends State ‘Upgrade’ Best Masking Practices

December 29, 2021

By Corinne Murdock |

Those behind and in support of masking requirements who have deemed cloth and medical masks satisfactory these past 22 months are now saying they’re no longer ideal. Instead, experts have begun calling for an “upgrade” of sorts. University of Arizona (UArizona) Public Health Policy and Management Director Joe Gerald is one such health expert; he told KOLD that individuals should wear masks graded KN95 or higher, in addition to getting vaccinated. 

“[People should be] making more careful decisions about how you interact these next few weeks, wearing a mask that’s upgraded to KN95 or higher,” said Gerald. “Public health right now is a hard sell. We are two years into this, many of the things we’re asking people to do require a sacrifice of self to others, and it’s a hard message even in good times. […] You’re not going to be able to convince everyone to do the right thing all the time, but you’re trying to get more people to do the right thing more of the time.”

Gerald has provided his expert opinion frequently throughout the pandemic to both policymakers and news outlets. Near the beginning of the pandemic, the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) appointed Gerald to a task force charged with creating a model to predict COVID-19 spread. Gerald’s model predicted that the least amount of COVID-19 cases would occur by waiting to reopen fully until the end of May.

In early May, ADHS disbanded the task force. Instead, ADHS reportedly opted to use a then-undisclosed federal model from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The ADHS director at the time, Dr. Cara Christ, published the FEMA model later that month. Unlike the version offered by Gerald’s task force, the FEMA model didn’t account for the lifting of mitigative measures.

Gerald also predicted to reporters last June that the state would run out of hospital and ICU beds within weeks; that didn’t happen. All throughout last year Gerald pushed against UArizona’s reopening last fall for in-person class, telling CNN last Julythat it was “a really stupid idea.” Last October, Gerald explained to The Atlantic how he’d successfully rallied UArizona to slow its reopening for in-person classes. 

Gerald’s latest recommendation followed Pima County’s health department and board of supervisors implementation of another mask mandate last week. Individuals must wear masks indoors when six feet of social distancing can’t be maintained. The mandate’s enforcement measures relied on A.R.S. § 36-183.04 through § 36-183.07, as well as § 36-191. Individuals who fail to adhere to a compliance order may be charged a civil penalty up to $750, or $1,000 in one day and up to $10,000 per violation depending on the course of action undertaken by health officials. Enterprises who violate health edicts may owe up to $5,000; those who hold a valid permit could be guilty of a class 3 misdemeanor, and the permitless could be guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor. However, the supervisors noted that any civil or criminal enforcement action couldn’t be undertaken without their approval. 

The shift in masking narrative hasn’t been exclusive to the Pima County area: health experts and other Democrat-run areas across the country have been shifting theirs as well. Instead of cloth masks, the new, improved standard for masking has graduated to filtering facepiece respirators (FFPs) — masks graded KN95 or higher.

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont announced Monday that their state would distribute at-home COVID-19 tests and N95 masks beginning Thursday.

As of guidance last updated in October, the CDC recommended cloth masks and advised against N95 masks. Their recommendation was based on the need to reserve N95 masks for health care personnel.

On Monday, the CDC announced that it would halve the recommended quarantine period from ten to five days. Infected individuals must be asymptomatic and wear a mask around others to receive the shortened quarantine period. The CDC recommended the same for those exposed yet uninfected, even for the unvaccinated or more than six months out from their last COVID-19 vaccination; yet, that same class of individuals may also be permitted to avoid quarantine altogether by masking for ten days, if quarantining isn’t feasible and they test negative after day five of exposure. 

The CDC claimed their decision was “motivated by science.” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky emphasized that the new priority was a safe continuance of regular life. 

“CDC’s updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses. These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives,” stated Walensky. “Prevention is our best option: get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial and high community transmission, and take a test before you gather.”

It’s unlikely the CDC’s sudden change in COVID-19 mitigation protocol originated within the government. Rather, the push from large corporations may have prompted the change.

Nearly a week earlier, Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian asked Walensky in a request letter to halve the required ten-day quarantine period for his fully vaccinated workers experiencing breakthrough COVID-19 infections. Bastian claimed that data on the Omicron variant suggested the virus was 25 to 50 percent more contagious but less virulent and with shorter incubation and infection periods for the fully vaccinated. According to the CEO, over 90 percent of Delta Airlines’ workforce has been vaccinated. 

Bastian also proposed a partnership, offering up his medical experts to work alongside the government and “collect empirical data.” The CEO classified his workers as essential, equating their necessity to health care workers, police officers, firefighters, and public transportation workers.

“Our employees represent an essential workforce to enable Americans who need to travel domestically and internationally. With the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, the 10-day isolation for those who are fully vaccinated may significantly impact our workforce and operation,” wrote Bastian. “We look forward to continuing our partnership with the CDC to protect the health and safety of our people, customers, and communities as the pandemic evolves.”

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

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