Following an order from Gov. Doug Ducey last week rolling back state measures that sought to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, some local officials say their local face mask mandates have been rendered moot.
Among the provisions of the governor’s March 25 executive order: cities and counties aren’t allowed to mandate mask use in public spaces, something that Santa Cruz County, the City of Nogales and the Town of Patagonia all did last year.
“The governor’s executive order pretty much removed any authority we had,” said Robert Thompson, Nogales’ acting city manager.
Santa Cruz County Manager Jennifer St. John wrote in an email that “the county’s mask mandate is still in effect, but is unenforceable pursuant to the governor’s latest executive order.”
In Patagonia, Town Manager Ron Robinson said the town was leaving its mandate in place, but it was now unenforceable due to the executive order. "We are leaving it on the books with a desire that people will protect each other while wearing a mask," he wrote in an email.
In some Arizona localities, officials say they’re going to challenge Ducey’s order. Tucson Mayor Regina Romero, a Democrat who has clashed with the Republican governor, tweeted last week that the city has the authority to keep its mask mandate in place. The Flagstaff City Council has also said it’s not planning to rescind its mask mandate.
In reality, the question may be mainly symbolic – most local authorities have shown little appetite for enforcing mask mandates. Last year, both the Nogales Police Department and the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office indicated that they weren’t pursuing aggressive enforcement strategies for the mask mandates.
Still, the mandates may carry some symbolic weight, and local leaders applauded when Ducey announced last June that he would officially permit local governments to impose their own mask mandates, even as he declined to create a statewide mandate.
At the time, Ducey mentioned Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino by name in talking about leaders who’d reached out seeking authority to create local mandates.
The governor’s March 25 order doesn’t preclude private business or organizations from making their own face mask mandates, meaning local businesses are still free to set face mask policies for their customers.
Thompson said that face mask use is still mandatory in City of Nogales facilities and St. John said the same is true in county buildings.
Thompson added that the city council would talk about the larger issue of mask use in all public spaces at its next meeting, scheduled for April 7. He said the council was likely to adopt a “strong recommendation” for mask use.