By TOM SCANLON
Foothills Focus Staff Writer
Gov. Doug Ducey and Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ sat down at a long table to begin a news conference on June 17.
Both were wearing masks.
It was a hint that things were going to change—quickly. The wheels started spinning on regulations requiring masks in cities.
While Carefree and Cave Creek split on the issue, a decision by Maricopa County took the lead.
“COVID-19 is widespread in the state of Arizona, and Arizonans must act responsibly to protect one another,” Ducey said.
Indeed, in the week before Ducey’s news conference, COVID-19 cases in Maricopa County jumped from 15,000 to more than 22,000. Since June 17, the total positive cases in the county has approached 30,000—double the number of less than two weeks ago. More alarmingly, the number hospitalized in Maricopa County rose from 1,809 June 10 to 2,176 June 20, a 20% increase.
Ducey said he strongly urges “all Arizonans wear face masks when you can’t social distance … to help protect vulnerable communities and reduce infection rates.”
Yet he did not make a statewide order, instead stressing mayors should set mask policies: “We’re going to empower local officials.”
Some cities rushed to take action; others took their time.
Social media sites lit up with emotional views by those who feel masks are needed for public health—and those insisting government needs to (literally) stay out of their faces.
On June 18, less than 24 hours after Ducey’s conference, Carefree was ready to take action.
“We will be issuing a proclamation later this morning requiring the use of a mask or facial coverings when practical in public space/public places to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” said Gary Neiss, Carefree’s town administrator.
Carefree Mayor Les Peterson signed the proclamation requiring masks in public “when practical” June 18.
Cave Creek decided not to act.
Mayor Ernie Bunch announced June 18 that the town of Cave Creek will not mandate people to wear masks in public or at Cave Creek Town Hall. Even so, he encouraged residents to wear masks.
“Unfortunately, the decision to wear a mask has become politicized,” Bunch said.
“We have seen in the past months that many choose to ignore those safety measures, and we really have no way to enforce the mandatory use of masks. I, for one, will continue to wear a mask where I deem it necessary. … I wear it out of respect for you, as it protects others more than it does me.”
Phoenix put a mask requirement in place just after noon June 19, around the time the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors went into a private, executive-session meeting.
After a five-hour meeting, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors announced mask requirements for all cities in the county, beginning June 20.
Not wearing a mask in public comes with the risk of a warning for first-time offenders, followed by a $50 fine for those who refuse to comply.
Ducey said he is emphasizing education about the benefits of masks and social distancing, while providing funding for “contact tracing” of those who test positive, to determine who they potentially exposed.
He also had some stern words for businesses that are not following current guidelines.
“As we continue to expand testing and prioritize our most vulnerable populations, today’s stepped-up actions will help further contain the spread of COVID-19,” Ducey said.
“We need to redouble our efforts, and we need everyone to do their part.”
With many high schools yet to celebrate graduations, Ducey issued a warning.
He said that, until recently, he could relate to those who say they “don’t know anyone with coronavirus.”
“Just recently I know a lot of people who have (tested positive),” Ducey said.
“They got it at graduation parties.”