Are we ‘normal’ again? Answers to 13 questions on changes in COVID-19 protocols

As the pandemic continues into its second year, Grand Canyon National Park is mainly open to visitors. Similar to other outdoor sites and services in Arizona, some restrictions remain. Other activities and routines that have been impacted by the pandemic include dining in restaurants, attending city council meetings and going to school. (File photo by Jordan Evans/Cronkite News)

Vaccinations are on the rise in Arizona, and requirements for safety protocols at businesses, in schools and restaurants are being lifted. While health experts continue to counsel wariness, some Arizonans are taking cautious, relieved steps after more than a year of illness, loss and restrictions because of COVID-19.

Over the course of the pandemic, safety protocols were put into effect at the national, state and local levels, as advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the past few months, those restrictions have been lifted gradually and continue to change.

On Monday, Gov. Doug Ducey, once again updated safety protocols for schools as part of a phased transition to full in-person learning.

As Arizona eases into a hopeful, post-pandemic life, here are 13 frequently asked questions about rules and regulations governing schools, businesses, activities and programs.


Are face masks still required in schools?
Ducey’s executive order on April 19 rescinded the face mask mandate in Arizona schools. He pointed to the rise in fully vaccinated Arizonans as a factor in this decision, adding that “school leaders are ready to decide if masks should be required on their campuses.”

In his news release, the governor cited the Arizona Department of Health Services’ K-12 School Guidance for COVID-19, although the document has not been updated to reflect the change on masks.

Ducey also claims that their action aligns with CDC guidance, but the CDC still promotes the prioritization of universal and correct use of masks and physical distancing in its operational strategy for K-12 schools.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman called the executive order “abrupt” and “just one example in a long line of decisions that have resulted in Arizona’s embarrassing response to a virus that has claimed over 17,000 lives and impacted thousands more.”

During a White House press briefing on April 2, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top epidemiologist, said the goal is to vaccinate the entire population, including children and adolescents. “By the end of this year, we should have enough information to be able to safely vaccinate children of virtually any age,” he said.

Will online schooling continue?
Ducey issued an executive order in early March for schools to return to in person instruction. “Arizona’s students need to be back in the classroom,” he said. “The science is clear: It’s time all kids have the option to return to school so they can get back on track and we can close the achievement gap.” The order still allows online learning, which some schools provide.

(Video by Phoenix Union High School District)

How can students continue to receive school meals?
Eligible students will continue to get meals through the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer, a complement to the meals and snacks provided to schoolchildren through the Child Nutrition Programs. The Department of Economic Security partnered with the Arizona Department of Education to administer the program in the state, with a goal to provide nutrition assistance to families affected by the pandemic. Students receive a preloaded Electronic Benefits Transfer card that can be used to buy food.


Are local mask mandates still in place?
Taking precautions as stated by the CDC went from required to recommended on March 25 after Ducey lifted restrictions in an executive order. Counties, cities and towns also were prohibited from establishing or enforcing rules, including the mandated use of face masks.

Leaders of several of the state’s largest cities, including Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, have defied the governor’s orders. She tweeted that the governor’s “decision directly contradicts the best scientists in the field.” Other cities defying this decision, including Tempe and Flagstaff, also cite the CDC and research regarding the effectiveness of face masks as the basis of their opposition.

How can city council meetings be attended?
In Tempe, Phoenix, Flagstaff and Tucson, public city meetings may be attended virtually. Face masks still are required in city buildings. None has indicated when in-person meetings will return. Surprise, in the West Valley, says on its website that in-person meetings returned April 12.


What services do public libraries offer?
Maricopa County Library District is planning a phased reopening of libraries. It offers services that include curbside pickup, limited in-person browsing and online events. In-building visits to Phoenix Public Libraries began on Monday with access to library services including computers and printers. Those planning a visit need to make a reservation, which lasts 45 minutes each.

Pima County Public Library branches offer visits up to one hour for shelf browsing, limited computer use, wireless printing, curbside pickup and staff to answer questions. Online services and virtual programs are continuing.

Flagstaff City-Coconino County Public Library locations are closed until further notice. Curbside holds and pickup services are available and virtual services, including a COVID-19 resource guide and online story time.

Are businesses required to follow health guidelines?
Ducey cited vaccine distribution and a drop in COVID-19 cases when he lifted capacity requirements for businesses on March 5. His executive order specifies that this applies to restaurants, gyms, theaters, water parks, bowling alleys and bars with dine-in services.

Individual businesses can decide whether to continue to follow the CDC’s COVID-19 guidelines. This means Arizona businesses can insist that you wear a mask.

When will live entertainment return?
Concerts and other live performances have been put on hold at venues and theaters around Arizona, many for more than a year. Ducey’s latest order lifted an executive order that required gatherings of 50 people or more to obtain approval by local governments.

However, many businesses remain cautious about easing restrictions. Crescent Ballroom and Valley Bar will continue to follow recommended guidelines of health experts and remain with their current measures, according to The Arizona Republic.

ASU Gammage will wait to host a live Broadway show until August, with reopening protocols that include wearing a mask and eliminating physical ticket handling.

What are the rules for restaurants?
On March 25, Ducey ordered that bars “resume regular operations, with the ability to require social distancing and masks.” Earlier in the month, he had announced the termination of occupancy limits applicable to restaurants and bars with dine-in services.

Although this meant potential for more business, many establishments reported difficulties hiring enough people to keep up with increased business. “We, right now, need at least 60 employees, if not more. And we just can’t get them,” Fred Morgan, co-owner of Fired Pie, told


What precautions are being taken at airports?
President Joe Biden issued an executive order in January requiring face masks in federal buildings and on public transportation, which extends to airports and commercial airplanes. Those who do not comply can face fines of $250 for the first offense and up to $1,500 for repeat offenses.

A CDC study on April 14 concluded that leaving airliner middle seats empty can help reduce exposure to coronavirus particles by up to 57% compared with when every seat is occupied.

Delta Air Lines is the last U.S. carrier to social distance in its economy aircraft seats, but that’s scheduled to end on May 1. The study does not take face masks or vaccinations into account; other airlines and industry officials also plan to resume booking every seat, according to news media reports.

Is it safe to travel by plane?
The CDC recommends that people not travel until they are fully vaccinated. Full vaccination is achieved two weeks after a second dose in a two-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The CDC advises flyers who are unvaccinated get tested before and after traveling and self-quarantining seven days after returning home. According to their guidelines, all travelers, regardless of vaccination status, should continue to wear a face mask, physical distance and wash their hands.

What is the best way to travel in Arizona?
For those who plan to explore the Grand Canyon State any time soon, the Arizona Office of Tourism suggests contacting all places on your itinerary ahead of time. Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, some tourism businesses in Arizona, including museums and historic sites, have closed or limited their hours.

The office has created a list that includes information on what attractions are open and closed, as well as a guide of hotels in the state that meet the industry’s AZSafe + Clean standards and have been certified by the Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association.

Page, which is near such tourist hotspots as Lake Powell, Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, became the first AZSafe + Clean certified city in Arizona on April 14.

Which parks are open to visit?
The National Park Service has created a guide to the status of Arizona sites and the services available. It notes that visiting Navajo Nation lands is restricted until further notice because of COVID-19. Closed parks on the reservation include Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Hubbell Trading Post National Historical Site and Navajo National Monument.

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State parks and trails, including campgrounds and cabins, are open for “responsible outdoor recreation” as stated by Arizona State Parks and Trails. The agency is continuing to request that visitors follow CDC guidelines and make reservations before visiting.

County and municipal parks, including South Mountain Park and other parts of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve – have had outdoor use available through the pandemic but closed indoor facilities.

In March, Phoenix incrementally reopened city park amenities and sports complexes, athletic field reservations and revived local sports tournaments, but only with teams from Arizona. Select city pools and all splash pads will ​open May 29, according to the city website.

Arizona residents and visitors should go to specific city, county, state and federal websites for up to date information on recreational areas.

Victoria Hill vic-toh-ree-a hil (she/her)
News Digital Producer, Phoenix

Victoria Hill expects to graduate in May 2021 with a master’s degree in journalism. She graduated from ASU in August 2020 with a bachelor’s in journalism and minor in film and media studies.