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Governor backs down, allows Tucson, other locales to mandate mask-wearing

Governor backs down, allows Tucson, other locales to mandate mask-wearing

From the June's Tucson-area coronavirus coverage: Bars, gyms face shutdowns; Tucsonans worried telemedicine might disappear series
  • Updated

PHOENIX — Under pressure as COVID-19 cases rise, the governor backed down and allowed Arizona cities and counties to require people to wear masks. 

The permission Wednesday from Gov. Doug Ducey comes the same day Tucson Mayor Regina Romero announced she plans to require masks with or without the governor's blessing.

It also comes less than a week after Ducey specifically rejected the concept of local control on issues of public health. He had argued the state needs a standard and uniform policy, and one that does not require masks.

What changed, according to Ducey aides, is the governor received a "very compelling'' letter from officials in the state's four border counties.

"We have all been tirelessly advocating that our residents adhere to the Centers for Disease Control guidelines, including the washing of hands, avoiding close contact, and wearing of face masks around others,'' the officials wrote. They said the most significant of those is the use of face masks in public, which the governor has refused to mandate and they cannot require themselves.

"The reality is that since the state relaxed the stay-at-home executive order, many residents have interpreted this to mean that the danger is over,'' they wrote.

They backed that up with hard data, including a 157% increase in COVID-19 patients in Santa Cruz County between June 1 and June 11. The total now is 914 cases in Santa Cruz County, 3,628 in Pima County, 2,942 in Yuma County and 206 in Cochise County.

It isn't just the counties that have been pressuring the governor.

In Tucson, Romero said Wednesday she has directed the city attorney to amend a city proclamation to require that people wear masks in public.

"This is the moment in time where we have to decide,'' she said even before the governor's announcement. "Every day we wait means lives.''

The exact details of the Tucson city order, including when it will go into effect, are being drafted by city attorney Mike Rankin, officials said. Enforcement methods and potential penalties remain unclear.

Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik cited a provision of the city charter giving the council authority "to make all regulations which may be necessary or expedient for the preservation of the health and the suppression of disease,'' saying that exists with or without Ducey's permission.

He said this community-by-community approach makes sense. "Conditions are different in different jurisdictions,'' Kozachik said. "What is the same is the science. Science wins. Mother Nature bats last and she's going to say, 'This is a virus and it does what it does.' ''

Ducey also received a letter signed by more than 900 medical professionals asking him to issue a statewide mandate requiring anyone age 2 and older to wear a mask. They cited the lack of a vaccine or proven treatment, saying the disease is just as contagious now as it was when the governor enacted a stay-at-home directive that has since expired.

"There is sufficient, clear, scientific evidence that wearing masks is one way to decrease the spread of COVID-19 and thus would reduce both the wave of severely affected patients requiring ICU and ventilator resources as well as unnecessary deaths,'' the medical professionals wrote.

Trying to appeal to Ducey's desire to restart the economy, they also said a mask requirement would accomplish a lot without the governor having to reimpose restrictions on business and travel that he had before.

"Keeping the economy growing while maintaining universal masking and social distancing is a win-win situation for every member of the community regardless of political views in that it balances economics with public health,'' the letter states.

Not all the messages to Ducey have been so friendly.

U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who has repeatedly complained about Ducey's policies, is upping her rhetoric, now attacking the governor's statements that his earlier orders were designed to "flatten the curve'' to ensure the state's health care system would not be overwhelmed.

"I don't think it makes sense to design your policy on whether or not there are enough hospital beds for people to die in,'' Sinema told a KTAR radio show.

Ducey's voluntary approach to wearing masks does have its supporters, including Martha McSally, the state's other U.S. senator.

"It's up to Arizonans to take care of each other,'' McSally said in a KTAR interview. "We've got to do our part. We don't sit back and wait for government edicts.''

Arizona Daily Star reporter Justin Sayers contributed to this report.

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Related to this story

  • Updated

Mayor Regina Romero has signed a proclamation requiring Tucsonans 2 years of age and older to wear a mask in public when they can't constantly distance themselves from others. Businesses whose workers interact with the public must require the employees to wear masks, to try to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

  • Updated

Arizona's liquor-license regulators have begun enforcement actions against bars that don't require employees and patrons to take safety measures to prevent or slow COVID-19 spread, Gov. Doug Ducey said Thursday. Ducey said Arizona is being hit hard by the coronavirus, but he isn't issuing any new executive orders because his plan is public education and the urging of personal responsibility. He was pressed to explain why President Trump's Phoenix rally Tuesday was allowed to have a crowd of unmasked, shoulder-to-shoulder attendees.

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