Republican Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona has officially given local governments the go-ahead to mandate public use of face coverings amid a statewide surge in confirmed COVID-19 cases.
A firm opponent of local discretion in response to coronavirus, Ducey has stood firm in asserting the need for uniformity of state public health policy throughout the economic reopening process, saying on June 11: “The government closest to the people is best — except in a global pandemic,” according to Bloomberg Law.
That tune changed radically in a Wednesday news conference, however, as the governor and state health officials broke down data surrounding discouraging increases in regional viral transmission and addressed public calls for renewal of restrictive action to slow the spread.
“There is a trend and the trend is headed in the wrong direction, and the actions that we are going to take are intended to change that direction and reverse this trend,” Ducey said.
“On cloth face coverings, we’ve heard from local governments, they’ve requested the ability to mandate masks,” he said. “This is an additional tool that additional mayors have asked for at the local level. Now, I’ve focused on a statewide approach where possible. Today we, seeing facts on the ground and differing circumstances around the state, support flexibility and a localized approach.”
“We are going to change and update guidance so that local governments can implement mask and face covering policies and determine enforcement.”
The decision came one day after the Arizona Department of Health Services announced a nearly 2,400-case increase in one day — the largest single-day increase in confirmed cases the state has seen since the virus landed in the United States earlier this year, The Arizona Republic reported.
After a brief plateau, viral transmission began surging again in late May, giving way to at least two weeks worth of daily confirmed case numbers exceeding 1,000.
— Doug Ducey (@dougducey) June 17, 2020
According to Ducey, increases in testing have also fed the influx — but larger spikes in several counties are reported to have concerned local government and health officials, leading some of them to call for gubernatorial action.
One such call, coming in the form of a letter from Democratic Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino, was put front and center during Ducey’s Wednesday news conference as a convincing argument for lifting the ban on mask orders.
“We applaud your efforts to encourage people to follow the CDC guidelines but see that in our community, the message is simply not getting through,” the mayor wrote.
“The rates of confirmed COVID-19 cases in our community are growing and we don’t see any signs of the curve flattening anytime soon. I am asking that you provide the necessary authorization for me to mandate the wearing of face coverings whenever our residents are in public or situations when social distancing is not possible.”
Others were less reserved, Arizona Daily Star reported, with Democratic Tuscon Mayor Regina Romero announcing her COVID-19 emergency order would now require that masks be worn in public.
“Every day we wait means lives,” she said.
More than 900 local medical providers had also joined Monday in the failed call for a statewide mask order, according to KNXV-TV.
“On some things, a statewide directive or executive order works very well,” Ducey said at his news conference. “If you have 12 or 13 counties that say ‘pound sand’ on an executive order because that doesn’t reflect our situation, it’s a self-defeating executive order.”
Despite his refusal to forward a top-down order, however, Ducey was aggressive in his stance regarding the public’s “responsibility” to socially distance and wear face coverings where possible.
Surging case totals, Ducey said, were largely a result of “bad actors” in the citizenry and private sector, unwilling to fall “in line” with public health advisories. The state would, as a result, be supportive of strict enforcement of mask orders in localities willing to pursue them, he said.
“As we’ve reopened, there’s been good actors, and I’ve said several times there’s been outliers,” the governor said. “But there have been more than an outlier here and there, there have been some bad actors. I’ve chosen to focus on the good actors to promote responsible decisions and good business management. But we need to address the folks that are not in line.”
“The Department of Health Services is updating its guidance. It will strengthen measures that will protect employees, customers and patrons of these establishments. And if they don’t, there will be enforcement and they will be held accountable,” he added.
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