Tucson Mayor Regina Romero joined three other Arizona mayors on Friday to discuss the surge in cases across the state and call for stricter COVID-19 mitigation actions from Gov. Doug Ducey.
Coronavirus cases are surging across the state and county, with 562 new cases reported in Pima County on Friday.
“Here in Pima County, we are seeing numbers we've seen only in the summer. Positivity rate is increasing throughout our state, and these things are very, very troubling for all of us,” Romero said. “The fact is that currently, we are heading in the wrong direction.”
Romero is calling for Ducey to implement a statewide mask mandate and a 14-day self-quarantine or a negative test for travelers entering the state.
In a media conference Wednesday, Ducey said he won’t implement a statewide mask mandate because 90% of Arizona is under local mask mandates.
“As much as I'd love the city of Tucson to be in a bubble, all it takes is one person traveling to Tucson to visit family during the holidays to make a huge impact in terms of spread here in the city of Tucson,” Romero said. “That's why it's so important that we have a statewide mandate for masks because we should all be holding hands in this. This should not be a political issue, this should be an issue that we hold hands that we work together and that we defeat.”
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans and Tolleson Mayor Anna Tovar joined Romero in calling for a mask mandate statewide.
The Arizona Department of Health Services issued an emergency measure that masks be worn on all school premises, but the mayors are calling for further action.
“There are very significant portions of rural Arizona that do not have a mask requirement. We are certainly seeing a surge in cases in rural Arizona,” Gallego said. “I think it would send an important message to rural Arizona, the governor has extended mask requirements for our students, their parents and grandparents deserve the same.”
If a statewide mask mandate is implemented, Romero says the Pima County Health Department would be responsible for enforcing it.
“[Tucson Police Department] doesn't go into a business and take it upon themselves to enforce the mask mandate,” Romero said. “What we're doing is coordinating and cooperating with Pima County Health Department. Pima County Health Department then has the ability to call that restaurant or bar and take further action.”
At the onset of the pandemic, the group of mayors said Ducey’s staff held daily coronavirus briefings, which then turned into biweekly briefings. The updates have since ceased altogether.
“In regards to communication, I think that's something that is very much needed in regards to all 91 cities and 15 counties throughout the state of Arizona. We used to have daily updates at the beginning of COVID . . . and then suddenly those were terminated,” Tovar said. “One of my biggest frustrations is not having that communication to update us to stay proactive in trying to come up with solutions, hearing from mayors all across Arizona.”
In addition to communication, some of the mayors expressed concerns about a lack of funding to address the pandemic in their jurisdictions.
Evans says the state received $1.86 billion in federal CARES Act funding, but cities and towns that were less than 500,000 in population did not receive a direct allocation.
“Instead, the monies went to the governor's office, and those monies were then dispersed with regulations, and also not fully dispersed . . . only $441 million was actually dispersed to the smaller cities and towns,” Evans said. “One of the things that we could use is for the rest of the money that is currently with the governor's office to be dispersed to the smaller cities and towns without restrictions, that way we can utilize that money to take care of the issues that we see here at a local level.”
Romero says Tucson received $95 million in CARES Act funding, and that “the city of Tucson Mayor and Council have put millions of dollars for workers and families for utility and rent assistance, for small business assistance, nonprofit assistance for arts and culture entertainment venues.”
Tucson's mayor says Ducey’s executive order in April implementing his “stay home, stay healthy, stay connected” policy prevented local municipalities from creating their own mitigation strategies.
“Back in the summer, when cases were spiking as they are now, [Ducey] untied the hands of mayors and health departments across Arizona, but only to institute a face mask mandate. All other mitigation strategies are off the table for mayors across Arizona, because of their prevention from Governor Ducey,” Romero said. “Here in Pima County, we just saw 660 cases reported Thursday, more than 4,400 cases across the state. If this is not an emergency to get our governor to institute additional mitigation strategies and in a mandatory face-covering across the state, I really don't know what is.”
Romero also expressed concerns about the disproportionate amount of minorities affected by COVID-19.
“With this pandemic, we have seen the ills of our society highlighted. We are seeing here in Arizona, that our indigenous communities, Latino communities and communities of color are much more exposed and are the numbers that we're seeing rise in exponential levels,” she said. “That is much more of a systemic issue that this country has the inability to provide health care for Americans and provide a safety net to our low-income communities and communities of color. That is the underlying issue that COVID-19 is highlighting.”
Although evidence of potentially effective COVID-19 vaccines has recently surfaced, the mayors say Arizona is in need of a united voice to actually implement them.
“We also are concerned in regards to the vaccine that is months away. We are excited about the news that is coming out of the potential releases of multiple manufacturers that have vaccines that are showing great scientific data that they are effective . . . but that message falls short here, nationwide, and also at our state level,” Tovar said. “We need a plan of action in place so that when the vaccines do come out, we have a strong unified message on how we vaccinate our communities.”
Whether Ducey takes statewide executive action for further COVID-19 mitigation, Romero said “it's up to all of us to take a personal responsibility of following public health guidelines.”
The mayors implore all Arizonans to wear a face mask, frequently sanitize and avoid large gatherings as Thanksgiving approaches.
“Masks are important. I understand they hurt your ears, mine too. But wearing a mask is more comfortable than wearing a ventilator,” Gallego said. “Thousands of Arizonans have lost their lives, there will be empty seats at Thanksgiving. We can take steps to make sure that we stop this growth and save lives.”
Romero echoed the same message.
“I know this pandemic has been frustrating, it has been exhausting, but we need to maintain our resolve for a little bit longer. I know this will be especially hard during Thanksgiving….We have to stay the course, we need to wear a mask, we must avoid gatherings, and all of these actions will save lives,” she said.
“Here in Arizona, we’ve lost 6,600 lives. 6,600 lives that are not going to join their families for Thanksgiving or Christmas or any other holidays. 6,600 lives that we are not going to recover. And so we are asking for clear statewide action and leadership by Governor Ducey.”