The following column is the opinion and analysis of the author.
In mid-May when Gov. Doug Ducey “reopened the state,” there were 11,736 cases of coronavirus in Arizona. In Pima County, there were 1,623 cases. Last week, the governor finally allowed local jurisdictions to require face coverings be worn in public spaces if they chose to enact such regulations. The day he made that decision, Arizona’s COVID-19 case count had grown to 46,689, and in Pima County we had over 5,000 cases. Clearly reopening the state was a mistake.
During the press conference in which Ducey conceded to local control on the issue of masks, he also conceded that “bad actors” in the business community are not adhering to his recommendations related to social distancing. The governor called out bars in particular for continuing to violate CDC guidelines and allowing customers to pack in shoulder to shoulder, violating both proximity, and time-in-contact guidelines put out by health-care professionals. While noting the violations, the governor shifted enforcement to local government.
If we are enforcing, then we should also set the rules.
The Tucson city charter gives the City Council the authority to “make all regulations which may be necessary or expedient for the preservation of the health and the suppression of disease; to make regulations to prevent the introduction of contagious, infectious, or other diseases into the city.” We should immediately act on that authority and reclose bars, and resume takeout and curbside restaurant service.
When the initial stay-at-home rules went into place, we saw the coronavirus infection rate beginning to flatten. Even with Ducey’s liberal definition of “essential” functions, we were making progress. Bars were closed, and restaurants were limited to takeout or curbside service only. Hospital bed capacity was not being threatened, supplies of personal protective equipment were adequate, and most importantly, the virus infection numbers appeared to be nearing a plateau. Now, all of that has changed.
Ideally, Ducey would reimplement, on a statewide basis, the parts of his own stay-at-home order that closed bars and limited restaurants to takeout and curbside service. Gyms are adopting rigorous sanitizing protocols, and other businesses can be a part of the solution by requiring face coverings for everyone inside their facility.
Why treat bars and eating establishments differently? Because they are different. Mask-wearing is not possible, and that alone is a risk factor for community spread.
Before he takes this step, the governor will wait until our ICU bed capacity is exhausted, our health-care workers are exhausted, our PPE supplies are exhausted, and the infection rates and death rates are even more extreme than they are today — which is why we should act locally, even if that means a legal challenge from the state.
We know that more strict stay-at-home rules work to control the virus. We saw it working back in March and April. And we’ve seen the impact of loosening the restrictions prematurely. The economy will not recover until the virus is better controlled. And until we have a vaccine, we must put into place rules that control behaviors that are exacerbating community spread of the virus.
Masks are one part of the solution — in business settings where they are practical. In food and beverage settings, they are not. Curbside and takeout service is the middle ground we should adopt locally, once again showing the leadership that really should have been coming from Phoenix all along.
Rely on our charter authority and put the rules into place. While the court process plays itself out, we at least will have acted to make ours a safer community.
Steve Kozachik, a Democrat, is the Tucson city councilman for Ward 6.
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