Local officials want Gov. Doug Ducey to let them require the use of face masks in public as a means of stemming the community spread of COVID-19.
“I am asking that you provide the necessary authorization for me to mandate the wearing of face coverings whenever our residents are in public or in situations when social distancing is not possible,” Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino wrote to the governor in a letter dated Monday, June 15.
County Supervisor Bruce Bracker signed onto a similar letter from elected officials from Cochise, Pima, Santa Cruz and Yuma counties that was dated and reportedly sent on Saturday, June 13.
“We applaud your efforts to encourage people to follow the CDC guidelines, but what we see on the ground and in our communities is that the message is simply not getting through,” it states, according to a copy of the letter published as a guest opinion in the Tucson Sentinel by two Pima County supervisors.
The signees asked that they be allowed to impose a face mask mandate as early as Tuesday.
Ducey told reporters at a press conference last Thursday that he did not intend to impose a statewide mask requirement or other new restrictions in response to the rapidly rising number of COVID-19 infections in the state. The letters sent by the local officials cite the especially high rates of infection in their communities as a justification for the governor letting them impose stronger regulations themselves.
In an emailed response to questions about the letters, a spokesman for the Governor’s Office did not directly address the issue of mandatory face masks.
“We appreciate the very thoughtful letters from the leaders along our southern border," wrote Patrick Ptak, the governor's communications director. "Our border counties are getting hit hard, and we’re going to be working with them to contain the spread of COVID-19, including ensuring they have adequate testing, PPE and other supplies.”
On Monday, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Santa Cruz County rose to 1,149 and the number of deaths reached 12, according to the County Health Services Department. All of the deaths and more than 800 of the cases have been reported since the start of the month.
What’s more, Santa Cruz County has by far the state’s highest rate of positive results on the test that detects active infections – 27.6 percent as of Tuesday morning – which shows widespread community spread of the disease.
On June 9, the City of Nogales, Santa Cruz County government and Town of Patagonia issued a joint proclamation urging residents to follow the CDC’s recommendations for limiting the spread of COVID-19, which include the use of face masks in public. But Garino told the NI on Tuesday that for the past week or 10 days, he and other city leaders had been discussing a stronger approach, especially given the feedback they were receiving from community members.
“We get calls from people, and a lot of people are concerned about face masks,” Garino said, noting that many of the calls involved the sporadic use of masks by people at local stores, as well as the lack of enforcement of mask-wearing by businesses.
“They’re asking why can’t we, as a city, enforce a face mask?” he said.
Still, while the city government would like the authority to make masks mandatory, the mayor said he didn’t expect it to be backed by police enforcement. Instead, he hoped that official language requiring masks would allow for firmer messaging than a recommendation.
“A directive specifying (mandatory) face masks maybe would be a little bit stronger for us, so we could put another message out,” Garino said. “And maybe it would be stronger for businesses.”
The letter from the county officials made a similar point, assuring the governor that: “This mandate would not have any financial penalties associated with it, but it would certainly garner the attention of the general public and, we hope, greatly increase the number of people wearing face masks.”
During a meeting of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday morning, Bracker made reference to the letter, which he said had been sent through the Border Counties Coalition.
“We’re working on that. We know it’s critical for our community,” Bracker said of the request to impose a mask mandate.
Supervisor Manuel Ruiz said the county would need to seek advice from the County Attorney’s Office on how to move forward with implementing a mandatory face mask policy.
“At some point in time, we’re going to have to do something and we’re going to have to take the bull by the horns," Ruiz said.