Governor Doug Ducey banned local mask mandates and walked back other COVID-19 mitigation measures in a new executive order released Thursday morning. The highlights:
—Bars are back to normal, with no restrictions. (Earlier this month, Ducey repealed restrictions for restaurants, gyms, and movie theaters.)
—Public events with 50 or more people, such as youth sports, no longer need prior approval from local governments.
—Local governments can no longer enforce mask mandates or enact new policies related to COVID-19 that are in conflict with his new order.
The order explicitly gives businesses the right to continue COVID-19 mitigation measures such as requiring face masks and social distancing. In other words, it's still perfectly legal for a business to require you to wear a mask before entering.
In a news release, Ducey cited several promising trends in Arizona as justification for relaxing mitigation measures. New COVID-19 cases in Arizona are declining, the state is averaging around 481 cases per day, and Arizona's vaccination effort is chugging along, with an estimated 25 percent of the state's population having already received at least one dose.
“As we’ve said all along, distribution of the vaccine is our best path to getting back to normal,” Ducey said in a statement. “The measures put in place last summer allowed Arizona to fight back COVID-19. I want to thank the local leaders who supported these efforts with their own measures, and the businesses who implemented them. Today, we are in a different spot, and we are also a lot smarter. I’m confident Arizona’s businesses and citizens will continue to practice the fundamentals and act responsibly as we gradually get back to normal."
Not everyone is as optimistic as the governor. Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, who has been at odds with Ducey throughout most of the pandemic, characterized the order as premature and dangerous.
"The horrible surge last June was only curbed by masking- when the Governor finally allowed cities to do it," she said in a tweet. "To abandon precautions now is like spiking the ball on the 5-yard line."
.@dougducey decision directly contradicts the best scientists in the field.— Mayor Kate Gallego (@MayorGallego) March 25, 2021
The horrible surge last June was only curbed by masking- when the Governor finally allowed cities to do it. To abandon precautions now is like spiking the ball on the 5-yard line.
Mayor Regina Romero of Tucson went a step further, announcing a few hours after Ducey's executive order that she had conferred with the city's attorney and been advised that Tucson could continue implementing its mask mandate. "I have no intention of removing our local mask wearing requirement," Romero said.
Governor @dougducey's actions are pre-mature and will jeopardize Arizona lives unnecessarily.— Regina Romero (@TucsonRomero) March 25, 2021
As Mayor of @cityoftucson, I have no intention of removing our local mask wearing requirement.
Full statement ??#MaskUp #SaveLives #WeAreOneSomosUno pic.twitter.com/xcUg4j1oFo
Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association and another frequent critic of Ducey's handling of the pandemic, wasn't quite as disapproving. He said that while he doesn't support the executive order and thinks that it is too soon to lift the restrictions, it won't have devastating consequences given the state's current COVID-19 case trends and the vaccination effort.
"There’s been no enforcement anyway, so essentially it has been voluntary," he said, referring to restrictions on businesses. "The requirements were always on paper."
While the news release from the governor's office framed the new ban on local mask mandates as phasing out the requirements, Humble said that the executive order appears to have an immediate effect. "It’s not a phase out at all," he said. "It’s over — it’s totally over."
C.J. Karamargin, a spokesperson for Ducey, confirmed to New Times that the mask mandate ban takes effect "immediately."
This is the second time in a year Ducey has banned local governments from requiring masks. Following criticism and rising cases during the surge last summer, he eventually walked back his original ban.
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