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Tim Steller's opinion: Ducey finally acts on COVID surge, but puts burden on cities

Tim Steller's opinion: Ducey finally acts on COVID surge, but puts burden on cities

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

Gov. Doug Ducey arrived at his Wednesday news conference wearing a mask, the first time he has done that since declaring a state of emergency over COVID-19 in March. Ducey urges Arizonans to wear cloth masks in public, but isn’t mandating it statewide, although as of Wednesday he is allowing cities and counties to require masks and set their own enforcement.

Now the mask wars can begin in earnest.

Up till Wednesday in Arizona, we have received guidance and requests, beseeching and groveling, from officials asking us to wear masks when in public places, especially where we can’t keep distance from each other.

It didn’t really work.

Even these simple requests to wear a mask to protect other people sent some Arizonans off the deep end, protesting their freedom of choice, acting as if such a request were an authoritarian dictate.

It was silly, because wearing a mask is, as I’ve said, a simple act of selflessness to limit the spread of the virus and protect the vulnerable. It’s a small sacrifice that too many were unwilling to make, even in the indoor public places we share, like supermarkets and home improvement stores.

So now the groundless outcry is going to get worse.

On Wednesday, when Gov. Doug Ducey granted the cities and counties the right to mandate masks, he relieved his own burden by granting local officials their wish.

Mayors such as Tucson’s Regina Romero had been pushing to get the right to issue local mandates restored, after it was preempted by an executive order Ducey issued in May. Ducey highlighted the request by Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino during his press conference.

Ducey apparently recognizes the logic of wearing masks in public but did not want to issue a statewide mandate himself, arguing that local officials could better respond to local conditions.

He has launched a public persuasion campaign under the hashtag #maskupAZ and for the first time walked into Wednesday’s press conference wearing a mask before removing it to begin speaking.

He said, “If you do go out, wear a mask. It’s the smart thing to do.”

These were all steps in the right direction from Ducey, who had been under intense and growing pressure to do something about surging COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Arizona.

They also represented a pattern of leading from behind that we’ve grown used to in his governorship.

Repeatedly, he has let outcries about urgent issues grow deafening, only to react at the last minute by offering a solution, sometimes partial, that could have resolved the problem long before.

He jumped in front of the parade on K-12 school funding and the Red for Ed movement. He did it on the distracted driving bill and on KidsCare. Now this.

It’s better than doing nothing, by far. But it also lets Ducey avoid the backlash from crazytown — the portion of the conservative right that has decided this is a partisan issue of freedom.

It’s not. As writer John Pavlovitz put it this week, “A mask is a stupid hill to die on, America.”

Recent research has bolstered the argument not just for wearing masks, but for mandating them.

Authors of a study published June 11 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science researched the effect of mask mandates in China, Italy and New York.

They concluded: “Our analysis reveals that the difference with and without mandated face covering represents the determinant in shaping the trends of the pandemic. This protective measure significantly reduces the number of infections.”

So now it will be up to the mayors, city councils and county supervisors to follow this research and devise mask mandates that make sense and will stick. They need to carefully enumerate the places where masks are mandated, and how the mandate will be enforced.

It will be a tough balance but it’s a good thing to do, since too many of us, including some of the retailers who have done booming business during the shutdown, have not taken masking seriously. I’m looking at you, Home Depot.

But maybe they’ll perform better if there is a clear dictate requiring masks rather than soft requests.

Now Arizona’s local officials get the authority they’ve asked for but with it comes the burden to do this right and the inevitable blowback.

Tim Steller is the Star’s metro columnist. A 20-plus-year veteran of reporting and editing, he digs into issues and stories that matter in the Tucson area, reports the results and tells you his opinion on it all.

Contact: tsteller@tucson.com or 807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter

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