PHOENIX — For nine months, most have honored the mask mandates put in place by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and local city governments.
Most local elected officials supported the mandates, although there were exceptions. In June 2020, Scottsdale City Councilman Guy Phillips mocked the death of George Floyd at an anti-mask rally in his city.
Phillips told the crowd “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” before taking off his mask and taking in a breath of air.
Now with COVID-19 seemingly on the decline, there is a new effort to lessen rules, beginning with the mask mandate.
“I’m not suggesting we just become careless and just throw caution away,” said Maricopa County Supervisor and Head of the Arizona Restaurant Assocation Steve Chucri. “We have to be mindful this pandemic is still there but what I’m asking is be mindful of the reality that vaccinations are happening in a very big way.”
This week, Arizona will surpass three million people who have received at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, 837,000 residents were infected with COVID-19.
The combination of those infected and those who have begun the vaccination process, with respect to any overlap, means Arizona is inching closer to what scientists refer to as herd immunity.
Herd immunity is when the overall amount of virus becomes too low to spread in the population.
Chucri thinks it’s now time for the Board of Supervisors to consider ending the county’s mask mandate. “I’ve heard from a majority of my constituents in recent months saying 'hey, it’s time to lift it, the mandate,'” Chucri said.
But Will Humble, the Executive Director of the Arizona Public Health Association, says it’s smart for elected officials to begin making plans, but it's too early to lift any mask mandates.
“My recommendation to officials whether it is at the city level or the county level is to have that dialogue. Have that conversation around how you’ll make the decision,” Humble said.
Even though the governor gave local governments the authority to issue mask mandates, Humble says it should be his decision to end them. “If we do this in a haphazard way some parts and not others I think it’s pretty confusing to the public.”
Chucri says he would like to see the governor end some or all of his public health emergency mandates. But until then, the supervisor says a majority of his constituents want to be free of the mask, and the Board of Supervisors can make that happen.
“Now is a different time and they feel as though we’re marching in the right direction getting COVID-19 behind us. And for those who still want to wear a mask, they certainly can,” Chucri said.
Chucri admits the County Health Department wants the mask mandate to remain for now.
Most of his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors want to see more evidence it’s safe before signing off on ending the mandate and that appears to be at least a few weeks away before that happens.