PHOENIX — Facing a slowing rate of Arizonans getting vaccinated, Gov. Doug Ducey on Thursday tapped former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona to be his new senior health advisor on COVID matters.

But it remains to be seen whether the Tucson physician will take issue with the governor who opposes mask mandates.

The move comes as the governor tapped Don Harrington, a 20-plus year employee of the Department of Health Services, to serve as its acting director. For the moment, he replaces Dr. Cara Christ who resigned effective Friday to take a job at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Arizona.

It also comes amid increased criticism of both Ducey and Christ by doctors who say the state should allow — if not mandate — masks in public schools, particularly as those younger than 12 are unable to be vaccinated.

Both the governor and his now soon-to-be-former health director have been actively opposed to allowing school boards to impose those requirements, saying it should instead be an individual decision by parents. And Ducey signed legislation which, beginning Sept. 29, makes such orders by school boards illegal.

Gubernatorial press aide C.J. Karamargin said a key purpose behind Carmona’s appointment is to try to boost the state’s vaccination rate. About 55% of Arizonans have received at least one dose, though the percentage of Arizonans fully inoculated is less than that.

“That number needs to go up,’’ he said. “Dr. Carmona and Don Harrington are going to help us bring those numbers up.’’

The problems are immediate.

The health department reports that 94% of beds in intensive-care units are now in use by both COVID and non-COVID patients. That’s as high as it’s been since the end of last year.

And then there is now the more transmissible Delta variant.

“Given this situation, there is a new sense of urgency on everyone’s part to get everyone vaccinated,’’ including people who have been hesitant,’’ Karamargin said

But Karamargin said that the doctor’s role won’t be limited to that.

“The purpose of having someone with Dr. Carmona’s experience at the table is to provide honest, informed advice,’’ he said. “And Richard Carmona is the best possible person for that at this time.’’

And what of the governor’s position on masks?

“You’re making this a political discussion,’’ Karamargin said.

“This is not a political discussion,’’ he continued. “This is a health issue.’’

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