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Ducey allows cities, counties to mandate CV-19 face masks under pressure from local officials

Gov. Doug Ducey said Wednesday that he will allow local governments to mandate wearing face coverings in public to stem the COVID-19 pandemic, faced with a chorus from Arizona's city and county officials and spiking coronavirus numbers.

The Republican governor, reacting to the dramatic increase in the number of reported coronavirus cases, also ordered that businesses require employees to wear face coverings "when feasible," and that all Arizona front-of-house restaurant staff wear face masks.

He stopped well short of issuing a statewide mandate.

Ducey's earlier executive orders had barred local governments from setting any policies more restrictive than the governor's statewide orders.

With the number of reported coronavirus cases in the state nearly doubling in the past two weeks, Tucson and Pima County officials had pushed Ducey to allow them to issue more stringent requirements for people to wear face masks in public. Previously, Ducey had stuck with recommending masks without any enforcement, and has not publicly set an example by wearing a mask himself.

Ducey issued an executive order Wednesday, allowing counties, cities and towns to "adopt policies regarding the wearing of face coverings in public for the purpose of mitigating the spread of COVID-19."

Southern Arizona officials quickly said they would move to enact such policies.

Read a complete copy of Ducey's order

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"COVID-19 is still out there; it's still contagious," county Chairman Ramón Valadez said Wednesday. "Wash your hands, don't touch your face, and wear a mask." The Pima County Supervisors will discuss mask regulations on Friday.

Calling "untying the hands of local governments on wearing masks" a "positive step," Tucson Mayor Regina Romero tweeted that she plans on signing an emergency proclamation Thursday. "This will save lives."

Ducey acknowledged Wednesday that Arizona's count of coronavirus cases has dramatically increased in the last two weeks.

"There is an indication that we are not out of the woods," he said.

Read the documents:
Ducey COVID-19 order: Requirements for businesses
Ducey COVID-19 order: Requirements for restaurants

Wednesday morning, state health officials said there were 40,924 total COVID-19 cases reported in Arizona, with 1,239 deaths — 20 more deaths reported and an increase of 1,827 cases from the previous day. Tuesday brought a record-high number of new coronavirus cases: 2,392 new reported positive diagnoses. Last Wednesday, there were 29,852 cases and 1,095 deaths in the state. Two weeks ago, there were 22,233 reported diagnosed cases and 981 people had died of the disease in the state.

"Serious changes need to be made, and there will be enforcement" against "bad actors" among businesses that do not mandate social distancing and other measures to slow the coronavirus, the Republican governor said.

Any local face-mask rules must allow individuals to comply with the measures before enforcement action is taken, the order said. Any enforcement against violators will be "up to the mayors and county supervisors," Ducey said.

Tucson and Pima County, along with the city of Nogales and Santa Cruz County, are each expected to enact some sort of mask mandate.

Earlier this week, Pima County Supervisors Sharon Bronson and Valadez had called for Ducey to give them the ability to set up local face-mask rules. 

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Valadez, the chairman of county Board of Supervisors, said Wednesday after Ducey's press conference that he was calling a special meeting for Friday afternoon to discuss the matter.

"I believe the board will do everything it can to protect the health of the people of Pima County," Valadez said in a news release. "We have to get control of this outbreak. We've lost too many lives already."

If a county "Back to Business Road to Recovery" subcommittee of local health experts that is meeting earlier Friday "says everyone should be wearing a mask, then the board should use the unique powers granted to the County Health Department by state law and make it a requirement of the public until it becomes safe to stop," he said.

Bronson said Wednesday that she thinks "we need mandatory enforcement for wearing masks in public, and I hope we can after the second offense establish penalties." She suggested fines at the misdemeanor level, under the laws barring violation of emergency proclamations.

If the supervisors mandate wearing face coverings in public, that regulation will apply to all areas of Pima County outside of tribal jurisdictions, including within the city of Tucson and the towns of Marana, Oro Valley and Sahuarita.

Mayor Romero had earlier in the day announced that she had directed the city attorney to "work on amending our local emergency proclamation to require wearing masks in public."

"Public health experts agree - the time to #MaskUpTucson is NOW," Romero had posted online.

City Councilman Steve Kozachik had said Wednesday morning that the city should challenge Ducey's ban on local face-mask regulations.

Last week, Kozachik had called on Ducey to provide cities the flexibility to enact face-mask rules.

The governor chose to "ignore that letter," Kozachik said before Ducey's announcement, noting that the City Charter gives Tucson the authority to act to "make all regulations which may be necessary or expedient for the preservation of the health and the suppression of disease."

The Democratic councilman said that the city should enact its own face-covering ordinance even in the face of a state prohibition, and "let the process play out" in the courts. "That'll buy us 30-45-60 days," he told TucsonSentinel.com.

"There's a method to my madness," he said. "If Finchem or Leach want to file" a challenge," the length of time that a probe by the state Attorney General's Office would take would mean "our transmission rate may be wholly different than it is today" even if the city has to admit defeat.

Ducey's moves Wednesday did not respond to all of the concerns expressed by Kozachik and other Southern Arizona leaders.

The governor told reporters in an afternoon press conference that "I said two weeks ago there was not a trend (of negative data). Looking at the last two weeks, there is a trend, in the wrong direction."

Saying that "we've got a big state, with different challenges and different geographies," Ducey said that he has "heard from local governments requesting the ability to mandate masks."

Democratic political leaders have said they have not had any contact with Ducey for months. They have not been informed of his press conferences, and they have been unable to speak with him on the phone. Mayor Romero said that the Republican governor has not responded to her, saying she was told to "submit a meeting request form." The mayors of Phoenix and Flagstaff have also been given the silent treatment. U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, also a Democrat, said that Ducey and his team "indicated they may not have the time or the interest to spend a lot of time with me on the phone."

Moments after Ducey’s announcement Wednesday, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego tweeted that face masks will be on the next City Council agenda.

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In her tweet, Gallego said the council will vote “to mandate face masks for residents going on essential business and in public spaces.”

Nogales Mayor Arutro Garino and others have previously expressed interest in having more local power to control the spread of the pandemic. On Monday, Garino applauded Ducey for encouraging Arizonans to follow federal guidelines, including masks, but urged further action because new infections still are on the rise.

After entering Wednesday's news conference in Phoenix wearing a mask and using hand sanitizer – a first while cameras rolled – Ducey told reporters he expects local mandates to have better compliance because local leaders have a better idea of what their constituents want.

“We have successfully slowed the spread of COVID-19 in the past. We’re going to successfully slow COVID-19 again,” he said.

"Following outbreaks in select parts of the state, including along the southern border and in northeastern counties," the Arizona Department of Health Services "today released updated guidance allowing local governments to implement mask and face-covering policies and determine enforcement measures. The guidance allows local authorities to tailor mitigation efforts specific to the local public health need," a statement from Ducey's office said.

Ducey's order will be in effect until at least July 1, and will be "considered for repeal or revision" every two weeks.

Since Ducey lifted his stay-at-home order May 15, a number of restaurants have closed again because of outbreaks of illness among their employees.

“Arizona businesses also need to do their part,” Ducey said. “As we’ve reopened, there have been good actors. And I’ve said several times, there have been outliers. By and large, Arizona businesses have been terrific, but there have been more than an outlier here and there.”

Other cities and local leadership are expected to make announcements in coming days.

“Serious changes are needed to be made, and there will be enforcement around those changes,” the governor said.

Cronkite News reporter Lisa Diethelm contributed to this report.


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