The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Friday to mandate that face coverings be worn in public under certain circumstances, effective immediately.
The new ordinance comes as COVID-19 infection numbers have skyrocketed in Arizona over the past two weeks.
It states that every person not exempted by the ordinance must wear a face covering that “completely and snuggly covers the person’s nose and mouth” when they are in a public place and cannot easily maintain six feet of distance from other people.
Establishments that are open to the public must provide face coverings to their employees, and they may refuse to allow a person not exempt from the measure to enter if they cannot maintain a physical distance from others.
Enforcement of the ordinance will be focused on education and promotion of best practices to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. At the board’s emergency meeting Friday, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said criminal penalties will not be imposed on violators of the ordinance, and the measure will be enforced by the county’s health agency, not law enforcement.
The ordinance does not apply to children under the age of 5; people who cannot medically tolerate wearing a mask; people who are hearing impaired or communicating with someone who is hearing impaired; places and locations of exercise; people who would be put at risk for wearing a mask based on their job; people who are obtaining a service related to the nose, face or head; people who are eating or drinking at a restaurant and are maintaining six feet of distance from other groups; and people who are engaging in outdoor work, recreation or exercise and maintaining six feet of physical distance.
The vote comes as the county is on target to have another record-setting week of new cases, with 1,130 new COVID-19 infections, according to Huckelberry. He cited scientific papers that conclude the use of cloth masks can significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Deputy County Administrator Dr. Francisco Garcia said if Pima County can get 50 to 80 percent of the population to wear a face mask in public, he expects new infections and deaths from COVID-19 to decrease significantly.
Earlier Friday, the county’s Back to Business task force recommended that the ordinance be accepted.
Supervisor Ally Miller, who voted against the ordinance, said that this ordinance will “pit neighbor against neighbor” and unnecessarily police the county’s residents.
“As far as I'm concerned, all the people that aren't wearing masks probably fit into one of these exemptions,” Miller said. “So in my opinion this ordinance is not going to change that behavior.”
Huckelberry said if people can successfully distance six feet apart, they don’t need to wear a mask. He added that the ordinance will expire once the curve is flattened, which means that the number of infections and deaths are down.
The City of Tucson passed their own mask ordinance Thursday, which went into effect at 6 a.m. Saturday, June 20.
That ordinance requires every person over the age of two to wear a face mask in public when in a public setting “where continuous physical distancing is difficult or impossible.”
“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,” Romero said in a prepared statement. “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.”
The city’s exemptions include when someone is in a personal office or similar room, anyone who falls under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to not wear a face covering, restaurant patrons while they eat and emergency responders.
The order carries with it a $50 fine or five hours of community service for violations. Repeat offenders could earn civil infractions.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced that local governments could set their own mask-wearing policies (and enforce those standards) during his June 17 press conference.
“I've focused on a statewide approach where possible,” Ducey said. “Today, we're seeing facts on the ground and differing circumstances around the state support a localized approach.”
The governor said turning over control to local governments, a change from his previous stance that times of pandemics warrant state control, will help local leaders deal with local problems.
In Santa Cruz County, roughly 31 percent of tests are positive, while the tally stands at 3 percent in Yavapai County. Yuma County is at 20 percent, Maricopa at 16 and Coconino at 6 percent. Pima County’s current positive percentage rate is roughly 16 percent.
“Every Arizonan should wear a face mask,” Ducey said. “This is an issue of personal responsibility and we’re asking Arizonans to make responsible decisions to protect the most vulnerable in our communities.”
As of Friday, June 19, more than 46,000 Arizonans tested positive for COVID-19. Pima County accounted for 5,019 of the state's 46,689 confirmed cases. A total of 1,312 people have died after contracting the virus, including 240 in Pima County. Maricopa County has more than half the state's cases, with the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases hitting 25,999.
Ducey said the state will continue to focus on its testing blitz as well as an increased focus on contact tracing. The governor also said he would send up to 300 Arizona National Guard members to assist in the effort. The Arizona Department of Health Services is shelling out more than $37 million to “enhance contact tracing locally and statewide.”