The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted to 4-1 to repeal the mask mandate and continue recommending masks at the emergency meeting Friday afternoon.
In order to stay in line with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated guidance on Thursday, announcing fully-vaccinated individuals can go unmasked in indoor and outdoor settings in most cases, the board passed Resolution_2021-35. The resolution repeals Resolution 2020-96, the mask requirement, while continuing to recommend mask use for unvaccinated individuals and in some cases those vaccinated.
The county’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia acknowledged the contradictions between the board’s resolution and the CDC’s recommendation, as the resolution required face masks without differentiating between fully vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.
County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry suggested three directions the board could take.
The first suggested the board could amend its current resolution to apply only to unvaccinated individuals and exempt fully vaccinated persons.
“This action, although symbolically meaningful, would be unenforceable,” wrote Huckelberry in his May 14 COVID-19 update.
The second option, which Huckelberry, along with Pima County Health Department Director Dr. Theresa Cullen and Garcia recommended the board select, opted for considering a new resolution to repeal the previous mask mandate and provide new recommendations.
The last option suggested the Board could simply repeal the resolution, which Supervisor Steve Christy made an unsuccessful motion to pass.
Ultimately the board chose the second option, aligning with the CDC in recommending continued use of masks and other mitigation strategies like social distancing for the unvaccinated people, while also recommending masks for all, vaccinated or not, on public transportation and in 'health care settings, schools, correctional facilities, shelters, congregate facilities and any other setting where it is required by local, state or federal law.” These recommendations are also in line with CDC’s updated guidance.
The resolution also requests establishments provide masks for employees who are not fully vaccinated and encourage the use of masks, but makes clear the resolution does not prevent establishments from setting their own standards on masks and social distancing, or refusing service for noncompliance.
After the resolution, Christy motioned to “rescind, remove and terminate” board Resolution 2020-18, which declared Pima County in a state of emergency related to the COVID 19 outbreak. The motion died for lack of a second.
While Supervisor Matt Heinz said he would love to be able to support such a motion, “we still are in a pandemic.”
“It's important to continue to acknowledge to the public that we do still have pandemic and a state of emergency is reasonable to maintain at this point, “ said Heinz. He said if the situation changes, he would vote to reinstate the mask requirement.
Along with the resolution, the Pima County Health Department updated its Public Health Advisory. Cullen said they looked at the CDC recommendation and tried to reconcile them with Pima County’s COVID-19 data.
While not at the goal of 10 or less cases per 100,000, Cullen said the county had stabilized at around 40 cases per 100,000 for the last four weeks through May 7 and expects the last two weeks will remain the same. Along with the stability in cases, Cullen noted the increasing vaccination rates in the county, with 49% of those 18 and over are fully vaccinated and the ongoing vaccination of children between the ages of 12 and 15, which began Thursday.
“The really significant thing is the growing body of evidence that indicates that fully vaccinated people are less likely to have asymptomatic infection,” Cullen.
The Public Health Advisory, following CDC guidance and the board’s resolution, states fully vaccinated individuals can go participate in indoor or outdoor activities without mask or social distancing, while those not vaccinated should continue to wear a mask and social distance.
However, regardless of vaccination status, they continue to advise mask wearing for people displaying COVID-19 symptoms, when traveling in public transportation, in schools, healthcare settings, correctional facilities, homeless shelters and congregate living facilities, and in large indoor events, greater than 1,000 people.
“While we are consistent with CDC, there is the nuance there that if you are in a large indoor events, you can be putting yourself at risk,” said Cullen. “We are concerned that we are not able to assess people's vaccination status. So while we strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated, we know that there will continue to be people that are unvaccinated.”
The inability to distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals was a concern expressed not only by Cullen and the board, but also Mayor Regina Romero.
In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Romero said she would ask the council to consider ending the city's mask requirement at Tuesday’s meeting.
“With the release of updated CDC guidelines, and no way of distinguishing between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, I will be asking my colleagues on the Council to consider ending our local mask-wearing requirement at our meeting on Tuesday while continuing to strongly recommend that Tucsonans follow CDC guidelines, including mask-wearing when appropriate,” said Romero.
According to the release, the mayor and council requested the city attorney and manager interpret, administer, and enforce the city’s mask ordinance consistent with CDC guidance.
“It is because we masked up and followed the advice of our public health experts that we are in a position where cases are low and we can take additional steps to fully return back to normal,” said Romero. “We must continue to stay vigilant, and I strongly encourage all Tucsonans who have not been vaccinated to get their shots as soon as possible.”