Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: The Pima Town Council unanimously voted Monday night to request the Graham County BOS enact a countywide mask mandate.
By Jon Johnson
PIMA – Citing a need to do something to stem the tide of increased COVID-19 infections and to keep the state from shuttering businesses, on Monday, the Pima Town Council unanimously voted to request the Graham County Board of Supervisors enact a countywide mask mandate.
The mask mandate would be for those healthy enough to wear a mask to do so while at indoor public places where physical distancing is not possible. Those who have a doctor’s note advising they are not able to wear a mask would be exempt.
The vote came on the heels of a similar request from the Graham County Chamber of Commerce Governing Board on Saturday and at the request of the Graham County Department of Health and Human Services and the Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center.
The Thatcher Town Council is expected to discuss making a similar request at its special meeting Tuesday night, and the Safford City Council has also agreed to hold a special meeting on the subject. The BOS has scheduled an emergency meeting to discuss the subject on Wednesday.
Pima Town Manager Sean Lewis – who is recently recovered from a bout with COVID-19 – addressed the council at its special Monday night meeting. The council’s regularly scheduled November meeting was previously canceled due to an outbreak of COVID-19 among the Pima Town Hall staff.
Lewis informed the council of the hospital’s situation, where it has recently had as many as 17 COVID-19 patients and due to staff being out because of the illness even though there are more beds available there are not enough medical professionals to care for the sick if numbers continue to increase. While the hospital has attempted to recruit staff from elsewhere, with 90 percent of Intensive Care Units full across the state, there simply aren’t any health professionals available from other areas as well.
Lewis advised that if the county didn’t take action, Governor Doug Ducey would likely mandate a business and school shutdown. He said Arizona is a hot spot for new infections, and Graham County is the hot spot of Arizona.
“None of us want to tell people what to wear,” Lewis said. “But we reached a point where we have to do something and we have to do it for a few reasons. Number one: we can’t overrun our hospital . . . The other problem we’re facing is we are, by far, the highest rate, which leads me to believe – in my opinion by talking with people with the state – that we’re facing a government shutdown again.”
The council debated the efficacy of masks and spoke regarding the subject for a little under an hour. Outgoing Pima Town Council member Jesus “Chuey” Cabrera questioned how the mask mandate would be enforced and how he should address it if someone went into his small business, El Mesquite Taqueria”, and wasn’t wearing a mask. He asked if he should anger and lose that customer by forcing the customer to wear a mask.
Lewis asked him what would be worse, losing the one customer or losing all of his customers due to being forcibly shut down?
Lewis also advised that ultimately it would be up to the businesses to enforce the mandate since the authorities cannot do so. However, he added that government can and will make sure businesses follow the mandate, or they can have their licenses taken away or shut down. That scenario has already played out in the Phoenix area and is currently playing out in Clifton, where a restaurant has been closed due to not following that area’s mask mandate.
Pima Mayor C.B. Fletcher added that signs would be posted in the entrance of every business advising of the mask mandate and that it is in place at the behest of the government entities and health professionals. He added that every business would be required to have the sign and adhere to the mask mandate, therefore there wouldn’t be anyone simply going across the street to another business not requiring them.
Pima Council member Deborah Barr was vociferously against having a mask mandate and she, like others on the council, said she felt it should be up to the individual person. However, in order to keep the state government from shutting down the area, she reluctantly agreed to move forward with the request to the Graham County BOS. Those thoughts were mirrored by other council members as well.
According to a scientific brief from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, multi-layer cloth masks help prevent the transmission of COVID-19, which is predominately transmitted by respiratory droplets generated when people cough, sneeze, sing, talk, or breathe.
Multi-layer cloth masks block the release of exhaled respiratory particles into the environment, along with the microorganisms the particles carry, according to the scientific brief. “Cloth masks not only effectively block most large droplets (i.e., 20-30 microns and larger) but they can also block the exhalation of fine droplets and particles smaller than 10 microns . . . Upwards of 80 percent blockage has been achieved in human experiments that have measured blocking of all respiratory droplets, with cloth masks in some studies performing on par with surgical masks as barriers for source control.”
The BOS is scheduled to meet Monday, Nov. 30, and is likely to discuss the subject.