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'Politics is not my issue': Arizona's new COVID czar avoiding talk of mandates as he advises Gov. Ducey

Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona says on 'Sunday Square Off' that the 'public gets no benefit' from debate.

PHOENIX — Dr. Richard Carmona, the former U.S. surgeon general now leading Arizona’s COVID-19 response, said he’s focused on boosting vaccination rates while avoiding any discussion of widely accepted public health measures that are opposed by Gov. Doug Ducey.

“I’m staying away from these divisive, hyper-partisan political arguments from which the public gets no benefit,” Carmona said in an interview on this weekend’s “Sunday Square Off” on 12 News.

“Arizona has set up a framework, whether I agree or not doesn’t make a difference. It’s the law… Politics is not my issue. I’m going to play with the hand I’ve been dealt.”

Carmona’s client, the state's Republican governor, is at the center of those “political arguments.” 

Ducey has sent mixed messages on public health responses.

  • On the wearing of face masks, Ducey has threatened to yank funding from school districts that have face-mask mandates and has rewarded parents who want to pull their children out of schools to avoid masking or quarantines. The governor said parents should decide whether their children will wear masks.

Arizona’s ban on mask mandates is now before a judge.

  • On vaccinations, Ducey has slammed as “dictatorial” President Joe Biden’s planned requirement for American workers to get vaccinated or else take a weekly COVID test. The governor says individuals should have the freedom to decide whether to get vaccinated.

In the “Square Off” interview, Carmona appeared to support the Biden requirement, but wouldn’t give a yes or no answer.

Carmona said Ducey would appear with him in public service announcements as part of a broad-based effort to persuade unvaccinated Arizonans to get their shots.

Carmona said a strategic communications plan would deal with “every element of society.”

“We have the power to accelerate getting out of this, but we can’t do it unless everybody gets vaccinated,” he said. 

“We’re going to do everything we can to inspire everybody, even the vaccine-hesitant, as to why it’s important.”

About 50% of Arizonans have received all shots required to be fully vaccinated.  

Hospitals across the state report being overwhelmed by new COVID-19 patients, almost all of them unvaccinated.

Carmona is an executive at Tucson-based Canyon Ranch, an operator of “wellness resorts.” Over the last year, he's advised the University of Arizona on its COVID response.

Carmona is being paid $400 an hour under a state contract that runs through the end of this year, according to a Department of Health Services spokesman.

Also on this weekend’s “Sunday Square Off”:

  • The Arizona Mirror’s Jeremy Duda tells us what the first maps created by Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission reveal about the likely Republican and Democratic breakdown of the state’s nine congressional districts.
  • Veteran Arizona journalists Rachel Leingang and Hank Stephenson share why they left jobs with established media businesses to start their own Substack newsletter on state politics, the Arizona Agenda.

‘Sunday Square Off” airs at 8 a.m. Sundays on 12 News, after NBC’s “Meet the Press” with Chuck Todd.

Sunday Square Off

Watch previous interviews and segments of Sunday Square Off on our 12 News YouTube channel. Be sure to subscribe to receive updates on new uploads!