The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 on Friday, June 19, to mandate that face coverings be worn in public under certain circumstances, effective immediately.
The board's vote came as COVID-19 infection numbers have skyrocketed in Arizona over the past two weeks.
Deputy County Administrator Dr. Francisco Garcia said if Pima County can get 50 to 80 percent of the population to wear a face mask in public, he expects new infections and deaths from COVID-19 to decrease significantly.
Every person not exempted by the ordinance must wear a face covering that "completely and snuggly covers the person's nose and mouth" when they are in a public place and cannot easily maintain six feet of distance from other people.
Establishments that are open to the public must provide face coverings to their employees, and they may refuse to allow a person not exempt from the measure to enter if they cannot maintain a physical distance from others.
Enforcement of the ordinance will be focused on education and promotion of best practices to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. At the board's emergency meeting Friday, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said criminal penalties will not be imposed on violators of the ordinance, and the measure will be enforced by the county's health agency, not law enforcement.
The ordinance does not apply to children under the age of 5; people who cannot medically tolerate wearing a mask; people who are hearing impaired or communicating with someone who is hearing impaired; places and locations of exercise; people who would be put at risk for wearing a mask based on their job; people who are obtaining a service related to the nose, face or head; people who are eating or drinking at a restaurant and are maintaining six feet of distance from other groups; and people who are engaging in outdoor work, recreation or exercise and maintaining six feet of physical distance.
Supervisor Ally Miller, who voted against the ordinance, said that this ordinance will "pit neighbor against neighbor" and unnecessarily police the county's residents.
"As far as I'm concerned, all the people that aren't wearing masks probably fit into one of these exemptions," Miller said. "So in my opinion this ordinance is not going to change that behavior."
Huckelberry said if people can successfully distance six feet apart, they don't need to wear a mask. He added that the ordinance will expire once the curve is flattened, which means that the number of infections and deaths are down.
Tucson Mayor Regina Romero issued an emergency proclamation requiring every person over the age of 2 to wear a face mask in public when in a public setting "where continuous physical distancing is difficult or impossible."
"Public health experts are telling us that one of the most effective ways we can slow the spread and protect public health is by wearing a mask," Romero said in a prepared statement. "I am asking all Tucsonans to do their part and please wear a mask—not just for your own health—but for the health of your family, friends and neighbors."
The city's exemptions include when someone is in a personal office or similar room, anyone who falls under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to not wear a face covering, restaurant patrons while they eat and emergency responders.
The order carries with it a $50 fine or five hours of community service for violations. Repeat offenders could earn civil infractions.
Under growing pressure to do something as the state emerged as a global hotspot for the COVID-19 outbreak, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced that local governments could set their own mask-wearing policies (and enforce those standards) during his June 17 press conference. It was a reversal of course for Ducey, who had previously said that statewide regulations made more sense than allowing local governments to set standards in the fight against COVID-19.
"I've focused on a statewide approach where possible," Ducey said. "Today, we're seeing facts on the ground and differing circumstances around the state support a localized approach."
Ducey also wore a face mask to his press conference for the first time.
"Every Arizonan should wear a face mask," said Ducey, who had previously downplayed the importance of wearing face coverings. "This is an issue of personal responsibility and we're asking Arizonans to make responsible decisions to protect the most vulnerable in our communities."
Ducey said the state will continue to focus on its testing blitz as well as an increased focus on contact tracing. The governor also said he would send up to 300 Arizona National Guard members to assist in the effort. The Arizona Department of Health Services is shelling out more than $37 million to "enhance contact tracing locally and statewide."
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Arizona jumped over the 58,000 mark as of Tuesday, June 23, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Pima County had 6,089 of the state's 58,179 confirmed cases.
A total of 1,384 people have died after contracting the virus, including 247 in Pima County.
Arizona hospitals continue to see a steady rise in the number of people hospitalized with COVID symptoms, as well as more people visiting emergency rooms. As of Monday, June 22, a record 2,136 Arizonans were hospitalized, more than double the 1,009 hospitalized on June 1. A total of 1,228 arrived at emergency rooms with COVID-like symptoms on June 22; previous to June, the number of people seeking help in emergency rooms never topped 667. The number of COVID-19 patients in ICU beds hit a new record of 614 on June 22.