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Romero orders Tucsonans to wear face masks to stem COVID-19 outbreak

Tucsonans must wear face coverings in public when unable to physically distance, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero ordered Thursday.

The order, amending the mayor's COVID-19 emergency proclamation, takes effect Saturday at 6 a.m., and applies to everyone over the age of two, with limited exceptions for health reasons.

"Public health experts are telling us that one of the most effective ways we can slow the spread and protect public health is by wearing a mask," said Romero. "I am asking all Tucsonans to do their part and please wear a mask - not just for your own health, but for the health of your family, friends, and neighbors."

Romero's move came after Gov. Doug Ducey loosened his restrictions on cities and counties on Wednesday afternoon, giving them leeway to craft local face-mask requirements for the public.

"The trajectory is very concerning; we have to do everything we can," said Romero, who cited the increasing number of cases across the state and in the county during an afternoon virtual news conference.

The order will be enforced with an "education approach," said Romero, wearing a mask while discussing the move during a Zoom meeting with reporters.

"If there is blatant disregard" of the order, "if we absolutely have to, we will issue a civil infraction, with a fine of $50 or five hours of community service," she said.

The mandate does not apply to people:

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  • With a medical or mental health condition or disability who cannot wear a face covering, or who cannot remove a mask without assistance
  • Who are restaurant customers while they are eating or drinking at their table
  • Who are public safety and emergency responders if wearing a mask could interfere with their duties
  • Receiving medical or dental treatment
  • Who are exercising outdoors, swimming, or while walking or exercising with other members of their household, as long as they maintain physical distance from others

The order applies to indoor spaces that are accessible to the public, including retail stores and other areas where the public is allowed to enter; outdoor public spaces; and public transportation including buses, taxis and ride-share vehicles.

Read a complete copy of Romero's emergency proclamation

"If this is not an emergency, I don't know what is," Romero said. "I have the responsibility as mayor to protect lives and property," she said when asked why she issued the order. "I have the authority as mayor" under the City Charter to issue emergency proclamations, she said.

The city order will be enforced by Tucson police, but officials are "coordinating with Pima County" about future moves, City Attorney Mike Rankin said.

"I'm very cognizant of (the need for) equitable enforcement," Romero told reporters.

The city "has been giving out free face coverings, and we'll continue to do that," she said.

The masks are required for "any person in a public setting, which we define," Rankin said. "It does not have to be a factory-made or N95 mask; it can be a handmade covering, as long as it covers the nose and mouth," he said, noting that "has been an issue in some instances."

Rankin acknowledged that parents of small children might have difficulty getting them to consistently keep a mask on properly, and said that the proclamation calls for them to "make reasonable efforts" to have kids be correctly masked in public.

Romero also extended the moratorium on Tucson Water shut-offs and late fees through July 31, as well as holding off on evictions from any city-owned buildings through that date.

The closure of most city buildings has been extended through August 3.

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Ducey loosens block on city, county mask rules

Ducey announced 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."

"I was ready to jump ahead of the governor and figure out the consequences after that," Romero said, noting that the city and county still have no power to mandate that companies have employees work from home, because of Ducey's preemption of local authority.

"That's something that would really help end the spread as well," she said Thursday.

Southern Arizona officials quickly said after the governor's Wednesday announcement that they would move to enact such policies.

"COVID-19 is still out there; it's still contagious," county Chairman Ramón Valadez said. "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," 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.

More than 43,000 people have been infected in Arizona and that number has nearly doubled in two weeks.

Thursday morning, state health officials said there were 43,443 total COVID-19 cases reported in Arizona, with 1,271 deaths — 32 more deaths reported and an increase of 2,519 cases from the previous day — a new record high for a single day in the state. 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.

Researchers at Arizona State University said the total number of COVID-19 cases in the state will likely double yet again by mid-July at the latest.

Judy Rich, CEO of TMCHealthCare, said Thursday that "Contrary to what some believe, the urgency behind mandating universal masking is not a political position. It is a human-interest stance coming from the medical professionals on the front lines of this pandemic."

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Urging all local governments to adopt mandatory masking rules, Rich said of medical experts, "We are leading the charge with one agenda – to stop this virus. It's time to come together as a community so we can protect each other and those most vulnerable. Many people have expressed the desire to do something to help. This is what they can do. Wear a mask. It is a very effective weapon in this war against an invisible enemy. It is a simple act that can do so much. We ask that our local leaders join us in helping to save lives now."

"What we know now that we didn't know at the onset of this pandemic is just how critical masking is to flattening the curve and saving lives," Rich said in a statement to the press. "Recent studies have shown that the use of face coverings reduces transmission of the COVID-19 virus by at least 50 percent."

"We have seen first-hand that since the reopening of of our state, too many of our community members are either not observing social distancing or ignoring the need to wear a face mask," Rich said Thursday. "This is resulting in our local hospitals having to deal with a devastating surge in cases and critical care. This will only get worse if we don't act now."

'Serious changes - there will be enforcement' — Ducey

"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 Wednesday.

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.

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.

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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.

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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From Romero's office

Under the proclamation, a face covering is defined as a covering made of cloth, fabric, or other soft or permeable material that covers the nose and mouth and surrounding areas of the lower face. A face covering may be factory-made, or may be handmade and improvised from ordinary materials, and can include a bandana or scarf. face coverings need to cover the nose and mouth at all times and should remain in place until taken off safely.

The below groups are exempt from wearing a face mask:

1) When a person is in a personal office or similar space (a single room) where others are not present as long as the public does not regularly visit the room.

2) For any person who falls under CDC guidance for those who should not wear a face covering, including but not limited to any child under the age of two.

3) For any person who cannot wear a face covering because of a medical condition, mental health condition or developmental disability, or who is unable to remove the face covering without assistance. A person who cannot wear a face covering because of a medical condition is not required to produce medical documentation of the condition, provided that an employer may require such documentation from an employee in accordance with state and federal law.

4) For restaurant patrons while they are eating or drinking at their table or seating area.

5) For public safety employees and/or emergency responders, when wearing the face covering would interfere with or limit their ability to carry out their duties or functions; and for any person acting at the direction of a public safety employee.

6) In settings where it is not practicable or feasible to wear a face covering, such as when receiving dental services, medical treatments or while swimming.

7) For persons exercising outdoors, or while walking or exercising with other persons of the same household, as long as physical distancing from others is maintained.

Enforcement of this proclamation and its orders shall focus first on educating and working to promote the mitigation of the spread of COVID-19. A person shall be notified of the provisions of this proclamation and its orders and given an opportunity to comply prior to citation or other enforcement action. Citation should occur only where the person in violation demonstrates an intentional disregard for and refusal to comply with the imposed requirements.

In light of the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, the proclamation extends the closure of city buildings and facilities until August 3rd. Mayor Romero has also directed the City Manager to:

Continue the moratorium on water shut-offs and delinquent fees through July 31

Continue the moratorium on evictions at city owned buildings through July 31

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