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Romero orders COVID masks be worn in all Tucson city buildings

CDC guidance changes, Pima County issuing new public health advisory

Anyone entering a city facility must wear a face mask, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said Wednesday, following CDC guidance that everyone in areas where COVID-19 cases have spiked should cover their faces in public buildings.

The measure takes effect immediately, city officials said.

Romero directed City Manager Mike Ortega to "require all members of the public, including those who are fully vaccinated, to wear a mask in city of Tucson facilities."

En español: Romero ordena que se usen máscaras de COVID en todos los edificios de la ciudad de Tucson

Masks will be made available to anyone who does not have one at the entrances to city buildings, officials said.

The move follows an announcement by the federal Center for Disease Control that even vaccinated individuals should "wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission." The CDC has designated Pima County as an area with "substantial" transmission due to the increasing number of new reported COVID-19 infections in recent days.

The city's action only applied to municipal facilities and the mandate does not apply to private businesses, which continue to be able to require mask wearing if they choose to do so, city officials said.

'Substantial' local spread of COVID

Pima County has had "substantial" spread over the last seven days, with more than 680 new cases — an increase of nearly 30% over the preceding week. Santa Cruz County is also classified as having "substantial" spread by the CDC.

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To start July, the level of community spread in Pima County was determined to be "moderate," but the recent increase in the number of new infections has changed that metric.

Pima health officials said Wednesday morning that they were preparing a new public health advisory, "strongly encouraging" everyone to wear masks in public due to the increase. Dr. Theresa Cullen, head of the county Health Department, pointed to a series of outbreaks associated with children in schools in cautioning people about the continued pandemic.

Maricopa, Pinal, Yavapai, Gila, Mohave, Navajo and Apache counties are all classified even worse, with "high" spread, according to the CDC.

More than 18,180 Arizonans have died from COVID-19, with 2 new deaths added to the total Wednesday, after 12 additional deaths were reported Tuesday.

In Pima County, more than 2,450 people have died from the coronavirus.

There have been nearly 120,000 reported cases in the county — with 114 new reported infections reported Wednesday, after 58 new cases Tuesday. Across the state, there have been more than 920,000 confirmed positive cases of coronavirus since the pandemic began last year. 1,361 new confirmed cases were reported in Arizona on Wednesday, following 1,475 new cases Tuesday.

"Since the start of the pandemic, we have followed the science and guidance of our public health experts," said Romero said in a news release. "Following yesterday's changes to CDC guidelines, I have directed our city manager to require all members of the public, including those who are fully vaccinated, to wear a mask inside of city of Tucson facilities."

"According to the CDC, Pima County is an area of 'substantial transmission,' with COVID-19 cases increasing locally and statewide. I strongly encourage all Tucsonans to continue to follow CDC guidelines and wear a mask whenever indoors in public, regardless of whether you are vaccinated," the Democratic mayor said.

"The majority of hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19 involve unvaccinated individuals," Romero said. "For your health, for your family's health, and for the health of your community, please do your part and get vaccinated if you have not already done so. The vaccine is safe and effective."

Ducey, Az Republicans blocked requiring masks in schools

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Republicans in the state Legislature have outlawed mandatory face-coverings in schools.

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Ducey signed a law in June that "prevents schools from requiring student and staff vaccinations, and makes it clear that wearing a face covering at school is an individual choice — not a mandate," he said. He also signed a similar bill that keeps public colleges and universities from establishing their own mandate.

Ducey reiterated his stance Tuesday in response to the CDC's announcement.

"Arizona does not allow mask mandates, vaccine mandates, vaccine passports or discrimination in schools based on who is or isn't vaccinated. We've passed all of this into law, and it will not change," he said.

The move to bar requiring masks was blasted by some public health and education advocates last month.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, an elected Democrat, did so again Tuesday, calling on Ducey "to follow the guidance of public health experts and give schools back their local decision-making authority to set policies for safe in-person instruction."

"The CDC is once again recommending schools, teachers, and students wear a mask if attending in-person school regardless of vaccination status," Hoffman said. "We know masks work and with rising cases, they're a vital part of our effort to reduce everyone's COVID-19 risks."

"I encourage teachers, administrators, and families to listen to the CDC and take individual action to keep themselves and each other safe by wearing a mask during in-person school," she said. "Students, teachers, and parents are ready to get back to in-person learning, but it takes all of us."

In the Tucson area, students in the Vail Unified School District have already returned to in-person classes for the fall semester. In Tucson Unified School District, Flowing Wells, Amphitheater, Sunnyside and other area districts, classes are due to begin August 5. Catalina Foothills students will return to class August 9, while Marana students are due back in class on August 2.

Tens of thousands of students at the University of Arizona are set to return to campus also, with classes beginning August 23.

Heinz calls for renewed public health emergency

Pima County should "re-declare a public health emergency in light of all of the new information," said County Supervisor Matt Heinz, who is a medical doctor practicing at a local hospital. Heinz cited concerns about the Delta variant, along with "cases and hospitalizations on the rise, and schools about to reconvene."

Last week, Supervisor Sharon Bronson said that she would favor requiring all county employees to be vaccinated — a move that local officials had considered and not taken last winter.

Bronson said that she would bring the matter up again at the next meeting of the Board of Supervisors, set for August 10.

Heinz said Tuesday that he wants the supervisors to take action on requiring masks in public, "especially regarding school staff and children under 12 who are not yet vaccine-eligible."

In Arizona, about 3.7 million people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and about 51.7 percent of people have received at least one vaccination, according to state data. In Pima County, more than 70 percent of people eligible to get the vaccine have received at least one dose, however, children under 12 cannot be vaccinated pending an approval by the FDA.

This leaves more than 24,000 kids in TUSD alone unable to receive a vaccination against the virus, according to enrollment data from the district.

Throughout the pandemic, more than 149,000 people aged 20 or below were infected by COVID-19 across the state, including about 19,000 in Pima County, state data shows.

Of the nearly 13,000 new Arizona cases reported in June, 92.4 percent "were among those who weren't vaccinated or weren't fully vaccinated," state health director Dr. Cara Christ said two weeks ago. "All this points to a fundamental truth: Vaccines are demonstrating their effectiveness at preventing serious cases and deaths from COVID-19 and providing the strongest possible argument for the benefits of vaccination."

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"We’ve reached the point where severe cases and deaths from COVID-19 are almost entirely preventable," Christ said.

Ducey's office announced Wednesday that Christ was leaving her state position, to take a job as the chief medical officer for health insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield Arizona.

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1 comment on this story

1
2 comments
Jul 29, 2021, 7:51 am
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This all started out to “flatten the curve” last year…. Now, science is showing that the masks and vaccines aren’t doing what we were told they would do. Even the lockdowns have shown to be ineffective.
This wishy-washy stance by our “leaders” really only points in one direction. This pandemic is being used as a political tool. “We’re going to take some of your rights, but it’s for your safety”. Look up Benjamin Franklin’s quote on giving up your rights for safety.

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Romero at a June 2020 press conference

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