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Tucson to require masks in public as Ducey relents; Pima County may follow
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Tucson to require masks in public as Ducey relents; Pima County may follow

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

In an abrupt about-face, Gov. Doug Ducey agreed Wednesday to give city, town and county officials the power to enact and enforce requirements for people to wear masks.

The Republican governor was under pressure not only from rising COVID-19 cases in Arizona, but also from some local officials who were threatening, with or without his blessing, to mandate that masks be worn in public.

Tucson Mayor Regina Romero announced earlier in the day that she will amend her existing COVID-19 emergency proclamation to require that masks be worn in public. “Every day we wait means lives,” said Romero, a Democrat. The Pima County Board of Supervisors will also consider a mask mandate.

The details of Romero’s order, including when it will go into effect, are being drafted by City Attorney Mike Rankin. It remains unclear who will enforce the order and what penalties are possible for failing to wear a mask in public, but the city is likely to focus on education efforts.

It’s still to be determined if the mask requirement will extend to businesses and restaurants, officials said. Restaurants are already required to follow a number of Pima County-imposed protocols related to the coronavirus, including daily wellness and symptom checks.

Romero said she will sign the proclamation Thursday, June 18.

Pima Supervisors Chairman Ramon Valadez said after Ducey’s announcement that he’s calling an emergency board meeting to discuss the mandate at 3 p.m. Friday, June 19.

Valadez and fellow Democratic Supervisor Sharon Bronson had pushed in recent days for Ducey to allow them to impose a mask requirement.

If the board approves a mandate through an ordinance — which could be expected because Valadez leads a 3-2 Democratic majority — it would apply to all Pima County residents except those in tribal nations, county officials said.

State law gives Pima County, through its Health Department, the authority to enact such an ordinance for all nontribal areas, including cities and towns, county officials said.

Ducey pushes for business enforcement, deploys 300 guardsmen

Ducey had previously insisted on a statewide policy encouraging but not requiring masks, even as state Health Director Cara Christ acknowledged last week that there are “hot spots” in Arizona where COVID-19 has spread quicker than elsewhere.

The governor at that time rejected the possibility of giving local officials the option of imposing their own restrictions, saying he wanted a statewide standard to “reduce confusion.”

On Wednesday, however, Ducey cited those hot spots as a reason to provide local control.

In his news conference in Phoenix, Ducey also:

  • Said he will provide for more enforcement of existing regulations that businesses must promote “social distancing” among customers and require workers to wear masks. There have been multiple reports and photos of patrons crowded into bars and restaurants despite a requirement for businesses to have plans to prevent that from happening.
  • Deployed 300 members of the Arizona National Guard to help with “contact tracing,” to find people who may have been exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus but did not have symptoms.
  • Agreed to allocate $10 million for masks and other personal protective equipment for long-term care facilities.
Situation has worsened, Ducey acknowledges

Ducey also separately encouraged what he called more responsible behavior, saying there appears to be a spike in cases spread by people having parties in their homes, including graduation ceremonies. If nothing else, he said, anyone who was at one of those parties who contracts the virus should call everyone else who was there so they can get tested.

Ducey and Christ both wore masks Wednesday to their weekly news conference for the first time since the pandemic began.

The governor agreed to remove a provision from his earlier proclamations and executive orders prohibiting local officials from imposing health requirements any stricter than the state allowed.

Part of what changed is Ducey’s concession that the situation is getting worse.

For weeks he wrote off increases in the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus in Arizona as simply a function of increased testing. On Wednesday he said there’s more to it. “We have increased cases in addition,” he said.

Ducey also said he was swayed by written pleas from border-area elected officials who have seen large increases in cases since the governor rescinded his restrictions on business activity and travel weeks ago.

“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 1,165 cases in Santa Cruz County, 4,385 in Pima County, 3,454 in Yuma County and 248 in Cochise County.

One solution, the elected officials told Ducey, was to allow them to require people to wear masks when they are in public and cannot remain at least six feet from each other.

A similar request came from Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino.

Medical professionals

also applied pressure

In addition, Ducey 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 Ducey implemented his now-expired stay-at-home order.

“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.

The mayors of Phoenix, Tolleson and Flagstaff, Kate Gallego, Anna Tovar and Coral Evans, said they will either proclaim mask mandates or take the issue to their city councils.

Others, including Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane, said they will not.

The Arizona Department of Health Services reached a record-high number of new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, June 16, with 2,392 new cases. The number of new cases was 1,827 on Wednesday, bringing the total to 40,924 statewide.

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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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