Raymundo Frasquillo File Photo/Gila Herald: A young girl secures her mask with loops over her ears. Gov. Doug Ducey is recommending individual municipalities and counties to decide for themselves whether or not to mandate mask use while in public.
By Lisa Diethelm/Cronkite News
PHOENIX – Gov. Doug Ducey is recommending Arizonans wear masks in public to slow the spread of COVID-19, but he stopped short of issuing a statewide mandate. Instead, Ducey on Wednesday said city and county governments can implement and enforce their own mandates.
After entering the news conference wearing a mask and using hand sanitizer – a first while cameras rolled – Ducey told reporters he expects local mandates to have better compliance because local leaders have a better idea of what their constituents want.
Ducey said he recommends “all Arizonans wear face masks when you can’t social distance” to help protect vulnerable communities and reduce infection rates.
On Monday, the San Carlos Apache Tribal Council voted unanimously 11-0 to tighten and extend its mitigation measures, including the mandatory wearing of masks in public. The Tribe has seen an uptake in positive COVID-19 cases with more than 10 clusters in the past few days and double-digit increases in positive tests.
As of Wednesday, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 40,924 cases of COVID-19 and 1,239 deaths in the state. It said 501,963 tests for COVID-19 have been completed in public and private labs in Arizona.
“We have successfully slowed the spread of COVID-19 in the past. We’re going to successfully slow COVID-19 again,” he said.
Moments after Ducey’s announcement Wednesday, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego tweeted that face masks will be on the next City Council agenda.
In her tweet, Gallego said the council will vote “to mandate face masks for residents going on essential business and in public spaces.”
Tucson Mayor Regina Romero also announced via Twitter that she’s amending her emergency proclamation to mandate masks in public, the Arizona Daily Star reported.
Nogales Mayor Arutro Garino and others have previously expressed interest in having more local power to control the spread of the pandemic. On Monday, Garino applauded Ducey for encouraging Arizonans to follow federal guidelines, including masks, but urged further action because new infections still are on the rise.
Pima Town Manager Sean Lewis told the Gila Herald that they are talking about possibly holding a special town council meeting to discuss the topic but that he would be shocked if a mandate to wear a mask in public was given.
Graham County District One Supervisor Danny Smith advised that he believes the Graham County Board of Supervisors will collectively make the decision regarding whether or not to mandate mask use in public soon.
“At this point, I expect that the Graham County Health Department will strongly recommend that you wear a mask in public especially if you are in a higher risk category and or you think there’s any chance that you will not be able to maintain your distance in your daily activity. We can adjust at any time we. We also have the lowest per capita number of cases in Arizona in Graham and Greenlee counties. We, of course, want to keep it that way.”
Since Ducey lifted his stay-at-home order May 15, a number of restaurants have closed again because of outbreaks of illness among their employees.
“Arizona businesses also need to do their part,” Ducey said. “As we’ve reopened, there have been good actors. And I’ve said several times, there have been outliers. By and large, Arizona businesses have been terrific, but there have been more than an outlier here and there.”
Other cities and local leadership are expected to make announcements in coming days.
“Serious changes are needed to be made, and there will be enforcement around those changes,” the governor said.
Click here to see Safford Mayor Jason Kouts’ response to Ducey’s recommendation.
The Gila Herald will update this report when we receive word back from Thatcher on the matter.
Jon Johnson contributed to this report.