As the delta variant of COVID-19 has brought renewed concern over the pandemic, Coconino County announced Tuesday it would be reinstating all mask requirements in county buildings as of Wednesday at 8 a.m.
County officials said the change was made after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its own guidance in recent weeks.
The CDC on July 27 put forth guidance saying that in areas where the virus has a substantial level of spread, all persons -- vaccinated or not -- should wear a mask when indoors or if social distancing is not possible.
Coconino County COVID-19 case numbers have followed an upward trajectory over the past several weeks and the county is currently in “high” COVID-19 transmission. Hospitalizations are also trending up, though there have been no deaths since the week of June 19.
“Vaccination is the path out of this pandemic, and is the best way to protect you, your family and your community," County Health and Human Services Director Kim Musselman said in a statement. "We are in a race against time to increase vaccination coverage and stop other variants from developing. Unvaccinated individuals should get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible. And while we are in substantial or high transmission, both the vaccinated and unvaccinated should wear a mask in public indoor settings to help prevent the spread of Delta and protect others.”
In alignment with the CDC guidance, the county is requiring face masks be worn by employees and the public while in county buildings to protect customer and employee health and safety.
Courts in the county, meanwhile, operate under orders from the Arizona Office of the Courts (AOC) and will follow AOC policy.
The delta variant of COVID-19 reportedly is nearly twice as infectious as previous variants, according to the CDC. While virtually all hospitalizations and deaths continue to be among the unvaccinated, some vaccinated people can get delta in breakthrough infection and may be contagious.
County officials said the masking recommendation was updated to ensure the vaccinated public would not unknowingly transmit the virus to others, including those not yet eligible for vaccine, such as young children, or immunocompromised loved ones.
In a statement, county health officials also said they support the CDC masking guidance that recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors in K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.
The county health department recommends that children return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with layered prevention strategies in place, such as wearing face masks, washing hands frequently and physical distancing to the extent possible.