Wednesday, August 11, 2021
Supervisors Matt Heinz and Adelita Grijalva supporting the emergency proclamation The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted against several COVID-19 related motions at its Tuesday meeting.
With the number of COVID-19 on the rise because of the Delta variant, the board considered several resolutions including, reinstating an emergency proclamation for COVID-19, mandating vaccinations for county employees, instituting mask mandates for K-12 county schools and mandating vaccinations for all healthcare workers in Pima County.
The board voted 3-2 against proclaiming the COVID-19 pandemic an emergency situation. Supervisors Matt Heinz and Adelita Grijalva supporting the emergency proclamation.
Supervisors Matt Heinz and Adelita Grijalva, who supported the emergency proclamation, argued that the declaration would signal to county residents the seriousness of the current state of the pandemic.
During the past month, Pima County’s level of transmission changed from moderate to high, with a rate of 120 cases per 100,000 individuals in the last seven days, according to the CDC.
“People will understand that we have a state of emergency and will take this more seriously and hopefully move to get vaccinated,” Heinz said. “The county will have more ability to more quickly respond to the changing conditions on the ground on behalf of the health department to make the residents safer and to protect lives.”
While Supervisor Rex Scott agreed with the need for messaging for the community, he believed reinstating the emergency proclamation would be the incorrect message, as it has little practical effect, only allowing the chair of the board to rule by proclamation.
“I agree with Supervisor Heinz that messaging is important. I don't think putting this emergency declaration, which only has one practical effect, back in place is the right message,” said Scott. “I think the right message is get vaccinated, so you do not die. Get vaccinated, so you do not infect other people around you.”
He also argued reinstating the proclamation would alienate those who are vaccine-hesitant or resistant and should be persuaded to get vaccinated by someone they trust.
Chair Sharon Bronson and Supervisor Steve Christy both questioned the legality of instituting an emergency proclamation on COVID-19, given state law passed earlier this year.
According to County Administrator Chuck Huckeberry, the county can adopt an emergency declaration “based on a series of facts and circumstances that dictate the emergency,” like the rapid rise in infections.
The board also voted 4-1 in support of a motion by Scott to not require Pima County employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
As the one dissenting vote, Heinz remarked “Incredible, you people.”
In support of requiring COVID-19 vaccines for county employees, Heinz earlier in the meeting read a statement by Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley supporting Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s plans to mandate vaccinations for all active-duty members of the U.S. Military.
“Since the first day of basic training and throughout our service, we've received multiple vaccines. We have proven processes with trusted and skilled medical professionals,” Milley said in his statement. “We fight together in the defense of our nation. We are responsible for each other's health and safety. Vaccines are the best tool to protect us from COVID-19.”
When challenged by Bronson on whether the county should fire county employees for not complying with a vaccination requirement, Heinz noted that as a doctor he is required to take a TB test every year or he would not be allowed to practice medicine.
Huckelberry recommended the board implement a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for county employees, with the exponential rise in cases, but during the meeting noted the difficulties in implementing the requirement given state legislation barring the county from requiring vaccinations.
If implemented as a policy, the county would have limited time to vaccinate employees by Sept. 29, when the legislation goes into effect. Further, he noted employees might wait until the law goes into effect to refuse vaccination.
Despite his belief in the effectiveness of vaccinations, Scott voted against requiring county employees to get their COVID-19 vaccinations, because of the inability to enforce it.
“General Washington back in the days of Valley Forge required smallpox inoculation. Many historians have said we might have won the Revolutionary War because he had the ability to do that. But what if the Continental Congress told General Washington he did not have the ability to do that?” asked Scott. “Well that's the situation that we are in with the feckless, irresponsible, ignorant decision made by the legislature and Gov. Ducey and I do not want to put a vaccine mandate in place that is essentially toothless.”
Following the same arguments, the board voted 3-2 against instituting a mask mandate for K-12 schools.
Christy argued parents should have the right to decide and the board would be going against the law, which prohibits schools from implementing mask mandates.
“I'm sorry that the legislature and the governor made a law, but it is the law,” said Christy to Heinz. “What you're asking us to do is to break the law because you don't like it.”
Grijalva voted in support, alongside Heinz, although she acknowledged the unlikelihood of enforcing the mandate and the possibility of pitting schools against the county and the state. She had not expected the resolution to pass, but hoped it had to “help alleviate some of that stress for districts that would like to have a mandate and feel like their hands are tied.”
The board moved consideration of mandating vaccinations for all healthcare workers in Pima County to next week’s Aug. 16 meeting, in order to give time to consider the county’s legal ability to put forth such a mandate.
With no strong action by the board on any COVID-19 related issues, Grijalva expressed frustration, as she hoped the community would receive clear messaging on the state of the pandemic.
“What I was really hoping for is that this community understands that the pandemic is not over and that information that was accurate, even a month ago, is no longer accurate with the Delta variants,” said Grijalva.
David Higuera, chief of staff for Heinz's office, said after the meeting that Heinz was frustrated because like “every other person who works in hospitals, doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, everybody, they're sick and tired of watching people die. They're sick and tired of watching the gruesome way in which people die from this disease.”
During the meeting, Heinz relayed his personal experience in the hospital with people sick from COVID-19.
“Now they're 20-year-olds and 30-year-olds and 40-year-olds and they are sicker than I've ever seen. They are getting intubated. A 30-something-year-old died last week on our service and that’s going to keep happening,” said Heinz. “These are young, healthy people. So the Delta variant is very, very different than the native virus, than the UK variant.”
Higuera said Heinz would continue to push for the county “to do the right thing when it comes to protecting children and others who are vulnerable, medically vulnerable who aren’t able to get vaccinated.”