The Pima County Board of Supervisors has taken several steps in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Pima County, including voting on March 19 to close down all nonessential businesses, and later when the state reopened the economy, voting to implement and then revise new health regulations for restaurants and bars offering dine-in service once again.
The board’s decisions have been met with some criticism across the political spectrum, with some critics saying the county has not done enough and others saying it has gone too far, according to Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.
Democratic Supervisors Ramon Valadez, Sharon Bronson and Betty Villegas said they voted for the regulations to ensure public safety, while Republicans Steve Christy and Ally Miller say the new rules make it harder for beleaguered businesses to reopen. At the request of three GOP lawmakers, Attorney General Mark Brnovich investigated whether the county exceeded its legal authority by enacting the regulations but the AG’s Office dismissed the case on a legal technicality.
Tucson Weekly asked the candidates running for Board of Supervisors seats this year if they approved of those decisions and if they would have done anything differently. You'll find responses from candidates for District 3 here
and candidates for District 5 here
In District 2, which includes southern parts of Tucson and stretches down to Sahaurita, Supervisor Ramón Valadez is facing two challengers in the Democratic primary: former state lawmaker Matt Heinz and political activist Richard Hernandez.
Valadez said the closure of nonessential businesses within Pima County had the goal of making sure there were enough resources to deal with the impending increase in cases.
“Most people think we did the stay-at-home order to actually lower the amount of people that got the disease, and that’s part of it, but the truth is was we needed to make sure that the hospitals in our region had the capacity to handle any surge,” he said.
Supervisor Ramon Valadez: “Most people think we did the stay-at-home order to actually lower the amount of people that got the disease, and that’s part of it, but the truth is was we needed to make sure that the hospitals in our region had the capacity to handle any surge."
As businesses reopen and people start to interact again, Valadez says attention to resources such as personal protective equipment, testing and hospital capacity will become very important. He said the county will do everything they can to keep people safe, but ultimately, Pima County is expected by law to open up along with the rest of Arizona.
Valadez indicated the supervisors will recommend additional health advisories and precautionary measures that they would like the public to take when out in public.
“Obviously they’re not enforceable, but I think in part as we’re looking at unwinding this and coming out of what we’ve been doing in order to maintain public health, I think people are probably more willing to go to a restaurant, particularly this close to the opening, when they have additional criteria that’s going to keep them safe,” he said.
Valadez voted in favor of new regulations for restaurants and bars that reopened for in-house dining, as well as the later revisions to those regulations on Thursday, May 21.
Heinz, an internist and hospitalist at Tucson Medical Center who is running as a Democrat in District 2, said he’s been “very impressed” with Tucson Mayor Regina Romero’s quick response to the COVID-19 emergency, and would like to emulate a similar leadership style.
“I think that from a timing perspective, she did not wait around, she listened to the experts,” Heinz said. “I think that she acted in the best interest of the City of Tucson, even when our governor failed so horribly and tried to hold everything open, she was advocating to close down more things.”
Democrat Matt Heinz says he "strongly believes" the state is moving too quickly toward reopening.
He believes there are “great people” at the Pima County Health Department working on how to combat COVID-19. Heinz said that in the next six months they will likely focus on making sure hospitals are well-stocked with ventilators, hospital beds and plenty of PPE.
Many of the 7,000 county employees are considered high-risk or live with a family member who is high-risk for COVID-19, Heinz said, so the county should continue to allow telecommuting without “undue administrative burdens” and should even expand opportunities for other county employees to work from home.
He supports the idea that all county employees wear masks in the workplace.
“If the county is going to require restaurant staff to wear face masks then it should also require county employees to do the same,” Heinz said. “Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ventana Medical and even Sky Harbor airport plus many other businesses and institutions in our community currently require masks for all personnel and visitors.”
While he “strongly believes” that Arizona is moving too quickly to reopen, Heinz supports restaurant workers using safety precautions in their operations. But he is against some regulations proposed by the supervisors, such as tracking the frequency of handwashing by individual employees, and says it seems like an undue burden on employees. That regulation, along with a few others, were revised by the supervisors May 21.
Richard Hernandez, who is also in the Democratic primary, did not respond to a request for comment.