Masks

A man wears a face mask during a produce distribution event last month in Rio Rico. The use of face coverings in public areas of unincorporated Santa Cruz County – such as Rio Rico, Tubac and Sonoita – is now mandatory.

The use of face masks in public is now mandatory in all parts of Santa Cruz County.

The County Board of Supervisors issued a proclamation on Friday requiring that: “Every person must wear a face covering that completely and snugly covers the person’s nose and mouth when the person is in a public place and cannot easily maintain a continuous distance of at least six feet from all other persons.”

The rule applies to all areas of the county outside Nogales and Patagonia, and went into effect shortly before noon on Friday, June 19.

Also on Friday, Patagonia Mayor Andrea Wood and Manager Ron Robinson signed a community announcement advising that face masks must be worn in public places and businesses in town, beginning June 21.

“Intentional disregard may result in fines,” the announcement said.

The county’s and town’s moves came a day after Mayor Arturo Garino issued a proclamation requiring face masks in public places in Nogales, and two days after Gov. Doug Ducey relented to pressure from Southern Arizona officials and announced that he would let the state’s local governments implement and enforce their own mask regulations in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-

19.

In Nogales, masks must be worn in indoor public areas if another person is present, and outdoors if another person is within six feet. Face coverings are also required in public areas of businesses and government buildings, and while waiting in line.

The county rule requires that masks be worn indoors and outdoors at businesses or “other establishments where people assemble or members of the general public may enter.” That includes offices, grocery stores, pharmacies, retail establishments, public buildings, highways, parks and public transportation.

A violation of the county mandate is punishable with a Class 1 misdemeanor, a stiffer penalty than the Class 3 misdemeanor included in the city’s enforcement provision. But like the city, the county downplayed the potential for criminal charges in its proclamation.

“The primary focus of enforcement is education and promotion of best practices to accomplish the goal of mitigating the spread of COVID-19,” the county proclamation states, adding that an offender must have the rules explained to them – via informational pamphlet, if available – and given a chance to comply before any further action is taken.

Sheriff Antonio Estrada, whose department is in charge of enforcing the measure, said he’s on board with the approach laid out in the document.

“I think that education is No. 1, and then if that fails, then enforcement kicks in,” he said. “We’re not going to be out there hunting for people that are not wearing their mask. But if we do encounter them … we will be making contact and educating and informing people. And of course if we run against repeat offenders, then there’s no question, we’ll apply enforcement.”

Estrada didn’t know if the county government would supply his office with educational pamphlets or masks for public distribution, but said: “We would be glad to be able to distribute and help out.”

“This is a poor community and you may have people that don’t have (a mask), and if they have one, it’s a used one and it’s not taken care of, it might not even be effective,” he said. “I think the county has a responsibility to provide that, and if they do provide it, we will do that, we will do everything we possibly can to make sure that public health is addressed.”

The county’s mask rule does not apply to children under 2, and it allows people seated at a food-serving establishment to temporarily remove their face covering while eating. Exceptions are also granted for people in certain other circumstances, such as law enforcement officers for whom a mask would create a risk, jail inmates, and people engaged in outdoor work or recreation who are alone or in small groups, as long as they maintain a six-foot distance from others.

Like the city’s proclamation, the county rule specifies that masks with a one-way valve do not satisfy the requirement.

Neither the city nor the county explained the reasoning behind the exclusion of masks with valves. But the City of San Francisco, which has a similar rule, said on its website: “Holes or one-way valves allow droplets out of the mask, putting others nearby at risk.”

“We are trying to do everything possible to keep everyone safe, so I would encourage you to please wear your mask in public to help slow the spread of this terrible virus,” County Supervisor Manuel Ruiz said in a news release accompanying the proclamation.

The face mask requirements come as the number of COVID-19 infections continue to rise rapidly in Santa Cruz County.

The number of local cases reached 1,297 by Friday, according to statistics from the County Health Services Department, with nearly 1,000 of those confirmed since June 1. Thirteen county residents have died from disease – all reported since June 1 – and 63 have been hospitalized.

Santa Cruz County has one of the three highest per-capita infections rates among Arizona’s 15 counties, and its rate of positive results on the test that detects active infections – 27.9 percent, as of Friday – is the highest in the state by more than 11 percentage points.

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