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Pima County passes face mask requirement

White House rejects national face-covering mandate, leaves decision to states
Posted at 11:59 AM, Dec 21, 2021

PIMA COUNTY, AZ — With omicron accounting for an estimated 73% of US COVID-19 cases, Pima County voted to impose a new indoor face mask requirement Tuesday.

The vote passed 3-2, with Rex Scott and Steve Christy voting against the measure.

The order requires masks to be worn in indoor public spaces where people can not stay at least six feet apart.

Supervisor Steve Christy opposed the measure, noting a state law that forbids businesses from enforcing a mask mandate.

Acting County Administrator Jan Lesher said she hoped the mask order would still have educational value. 

The County does not plan any enforcement efforts by County staff. Scott said he supports the idea of a mask mandate but voted against it because he fears masks have become so politicized that employees will be abused for attempting to require masks in a business.

In public comments, several members of the public criticized mask mandates as oppressive and ineffective.  Others said masks are a valuable way to reduce the spread of COVID.  Representatives of Banner University Medical Center and Tucson Medical Center urged passing a mask mandate. 

They fear hospitals will be overwhelmed by a new wave of COVID patients. The County mask order is set to run at least through February 28, 2022.

With rising concerns about COVID’s new, more transmissible Omicron variant, Pima County Supervisors voted 3 to 2 to reinstate a county-wide mask mandate. The order requires masks to be worn in indoor public spaces where people can not stay at least six feet apart,

Christy noted a state law that forbids businesses from enforcing a mask mandate.

Acting County Administrator Jan Lesher said she hoped the mask order would still have educational value. The County does not plan any enforcement efforts by County staff.

Supervisor Rex Scott said he supports the idea of a mask mandate but voted against it because he fears masks have become so politicized that employees will be abused for attempting to require masks in a business.

In public comments, several members of the public criticized mask mandates as oppressive and ineffective. Others said masks are a valuable way to reduce the spread of COVID. Representatives of Banner University Medical Center and Tucson Medical Center urged passing a mask mandate. They fear hospitals will be overwhelmed by a new wave of COVID patients.

The County mask order is set to run at least through February 28, 2022.

News of the vote came via a memorandum from Acting County Administrator Jan Lesher the Board of Supervisors Monday. The board of supervisors will discuss adopting rules for the safety and health of the public, which would require people to wear a face mask indoors and when they cannot maintain social distance of at least six feet, according to an addendum from the Board of Supervisors. Previously, the board mandated mask usage, social distancing and signage in restaurants, which eventually rolled out to most businesses.

RELATED: Pima County board to discuss countywide mask mandate for indoor public places

Last week, the first case of the omicron variant was detected in Pima County. The first cases of omicron reported in the state were in Yavapai County in mid-December. Omicron cases showed up in the Phoenix area earlier this month.

RELATED: First case of Omicron variant detected in Pima County

The first known case of omicron was confirmed in the United States Dec. 1, according to the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC).

In November, the county reported 15,851 cases of COVID-19 compared to last year, which reported 13,933 cases, according to the memo. That's nearly a 2,000 case difference.

As far as hospital occupancy, this is the highest COVID-19 ICU occupancy since winter 2020, Lesher says in the memo. As of Dec. 19, hospitals reported 117 COVID-19 positive individuals occupying 39% of ICU beds, and 33% in Pima County.

As far as schools, since July, 305 schools reported 8,022 cases, which resulted in 237 outbreaks and 131 classroom closures, according to the memo.

"This second winter surge in cases is again severely straining our healthcare resources and requiring continued investment of Pima County resources to bolster vaccination, testing and other mitigation measures. Many in the community are looking to the Board of Supervisors and the County Health Department for help. New state laws and other state actions have limited the tools we have to respond to the requests for action to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19," Lesher says in the memo.

Vaccinations and boosters are still highly encouraged to help prevent infection and decrease the transmission of COVID-19. So far, in Pima County, 1,549,180 doses have been administered, 725,171 have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 661,758 residents are fully vaccinated with two doses, Lesher says in the memo. As of Dec. 20, in Arizona, 9,556,480 doses have been administered, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Click here to read the full board of supervisors memorandum.