The mayors of Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff and Tolleson are calling on Gov. Doug Ducey to institute a statewide mask mandate as COVID-19 cases in the state continue to rise.
The call comes as infection rates in the state are hitting levels not seen since the state previously implemented harder lockdown measures earlier this year and as holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas are fast approaching.
Ducey has for months said masks are an essential tool to fighting the coronavirus, but has resisted requiring them throughout the state.
“You can’t say you believe in it and not implement the policy,” Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said about Ducey’s stance on a statewide mandate. “Now is the time to do it.”
In mid-June — when Arizona was among the worst in the nation for COVID infections — Ducey gave cities, counties and towns the ability to implement and enforce their own mask mandates. The move was a reversal from prior months, when Ducey explicitly barred local governments from going beyond the restrictions he set for the entire state. He defended the limits, citing an Arizona state law that defines the powers of the governor during times of an emergency.
When he allowed local governments to implement mask mandates, Ducey also gave them the ability to enforce those mandates — as long as the enforcement focused first and foremost on educating those who weren’t complying.
But there has been little enforcement of the local mandates, and the mayors were pressed repeatedly about why that has been the case — and how enforcement and compliance would be different if a statewide requirement were in place.
Gallego said that the Phoenix Police Department has made “hundreds” of contacts with residents about the importance of wearing a mask, but feels that sending people to jail for not complying with the mandate is “not the way to get through this.”
The response elicited a dismissal from Ducey’s office.
“Today’s press conference from the mayors could be summed up as, ‘Do what I say, not what I do,’” Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak said in an email to Arizona Mirror. “The mayors want to see more mandates, while admitting they have no interest in enforcing their own, and for good reason.”
Enforcement of the mask mandates across the state has been varied, and in some places it isn’t even a part of the mandate. For instance, Gilbert requires masks where social distancing is not feasible, but didn’t include an enforcement mechanism in its order. Additionally, in some areas of the state, politicians or law enforcement have stated they would not enforce any such mandate.
In a Nov. 18 press conference, Ducey said he felt a statewide mask mandate was not necessary, as some 90% of the state already has city or county mandates in place. And all of the state is covered by masking requirements for businesses like restaurants and fitness centers.
Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said that a statewide mandate is necessary as the current model creates a “patchwork” across the state and that many smaller rural areas are not enforcing mask mandates.
“We are asking for clear and statewide action,” Romero said.
The Governor’s Office said that its focus is on education, compliance and personal responsibility.
“It was good to see the mayors repeat the same thing when finally questioned about why they aren’t enforcing their own mandates,” Ptak said.
The mayors also said Ducey hasn’t been communicative. Gallego said the last time she spoke to the governor was in June, when he gave localities the ability to make mask mandates. The last time Romero spoke with Ducey was in March.
Additionally, meetings about COVID between Ducey’s office and the mayors that took place regularly earlier in the pandemic have stopped entirely. Tolleson Mayor Anna Tovar said that staffers from Ducey’s office used to have phone conversations with city leaders about COVID-related issues daily.
“There is a definite lack of communication with the mayors when discussing this issue,” Evans said.
The Governor’s Office did not respond to questions about why it no longer is meeting with city leaders about the pandemic.
On Friday, the Arizona Department of Health Services announced an additional 4,471 cases of COVID-19, the highest single day total since July 8.
As of Nov. 20 there have been over 291,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 6,400 deaths in Arizona.