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Pima County keeps voluntary curfew, enhances penalties for violating COVID-19 rules
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Pima County keeps voluntary curfew, enhances penalties for violating COVID-19 rules

Pima County Board of Supervisors, 2020, COVID

Supervisor Betty Villegas, left, chair Ramón Valadez and clerk Julie Castaneda listen as County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, foreground, talks about new measures being considered to address the rapidly rising number of COVID-19 cases.

The Pima County supervisors voted Friday to strengthen penalties related to noncompliance with COVID-19 regulations, including the potential suspension of restaurant licenses and civil penalties for people not wearing a mask in public.

In addition to several new enforcement actions, the Board of Supervisors also endorsed a strengthened public-health advisory by the Pima County Health Department that now requires businesses to report any known coronavirus cases.

The county’s voluntary curfew, which began Nov. 24, will remain in place each night from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. through Dec. 31. Even as other areas of the county are asked to adhere to the voluntary curfew, the city of Tucson voted to implement a mandatory curfew earlier this week, which will be in place from Friday, Dec. 4, to Wednesday, Dec. 23.

“The point of an advisory is to really ensure that people understand the severity of what we are dealing with,” said Dr. Theresa Cullen, the county’s public-health director. “We are in a crisis situation.”

The increased enforcement measures come as new coronavirus cases reach unprecedented levels throughout the county and state. In the first four days of December, there have been close to 2,900 new infections in the county, exceeding the total number of cases in March, April and May combined.

Hospitals also continue to deal with a record number of COVID-19 patients, reporting only one available ICU bed in the county on Dec. 3. Officials throughout the state continue to see an accelerated growth curve with no signs of slowing down without serious statewide intervention.

“We in the hospitals are being stretched to the limit, even as we speak,” said Dr. Clifford Martin, an infectious-disease specialist at Tucson Medical Center, when addressing the board. “I ask you and the community to do whatever you can to help us in the hospital at this point.”

Based on action taken by Gov. Doug Ducey earlier this week, the board decided to enhance enforcement on a number of coronavirus regulations already in place.

Here are the actions that were taken by the board, in 3-2 votes with Republican supervisors Steve Christy and Ally Miller voting no on them:

Business regulations

In July, supervisors adopted a number of temporary measures applicable to restaurants, public pools, gyms, fitness centers, hotels and resorts, such as employee temperature checks, masks and gloves, occupancy limits, social distancing and cleaning requirements.

Under an amended proclamation, the county will now enhance its enforcement of these measures, allowing only one incidence of noncompliance before facing repercussion by the county Health Department. A second violation by a business could result in the possible suspension or revocation of the establishment’s license or operating permit.

Mask compliance

While the county has had a mask mandate in place since June, there were previously no penalties in place for noncompliance. On Friday, the board asked that all county jurisdictions and law enforcement agencies assist in enforcement action, which includes a $50 civil fine for not wearing a mask in public areas.

In addition, the board made it mandatory for businesses to refuse service to anyone entering their establishments without a mask, unless specific exemptions apply. A business could be fined up to $500 if they do not comply.

Event regulations

Anyone wishing to hold an event with more than 50 people will now be required to pay a $1,000 or more compliance deposit, depending on the size of the proposed event. If mitigation strategies are followed during the event, organizers would be entitled to get their deposit back.

There will be on-site inspections of these events to determine compliance.

Curfew

The voluntary countywide curfew, intended to curb evening social gatherings at bars and other places, will remain in place through Dec. 31.

After two weeks, the board will review whether the voluntary curfew and other measures are working by analyzing the number of infections per 100,000 residents as well as the percent of positivity within the county. If the county is still over 100 cases per 100,000 people and over 10% positive, the board will consider moving to a mandatory curfew.

“We don’t know what the next two weeks will bring,” County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said. “We are at over 350 infections per 100,000. If that continues to increase, we will be back with more measures within the next two weeks.”

Older adults asked to shelter in place

In addition to the curfew, the Health Department is also asking for older adults and people with underlying medical conditions to voluntarily shelter in place, except to seek medical care, purchase food, attend work or other essential activities.

The enhanced public-health advisory also requires businesses to report any confirmed COVID-19 cases within their establishment and further comply with any contact tracing efforts by the Health Department. A website will go live next week for businesses to report these cases to the county.

Contact reporter Jasmine Demers at jdemers@tucson.com

On Twitter: @JasmineADemers

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