Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said Thursday she has no intention of removing the local mask mandate for the health and safety of Tucsonans.
Romero's comments at an afternoon press conference came after Gov. Doug Ducey's earlier announcement that lifted statewide COVID restrictions on businesses and gatherings and included a “phase out” of mask mandates. (Read more on Ducey’s new COVID-19 measures here.)
Romero warned that Ducey’s actions will only “exacerbate community transmission, prolonging the pandemic, and delaying a full reopening of our economy” and that they have clear legal authority to continue implementing the mandate.
The City of Tucson’s mask mandate, implemented last summer, was enacted under the powers extended to the city through its governing charter, including disease prevention. The charter's Chapter VII states: “Disease prevention. To make all regulations which may be necessary or expedient for the preservation of the health and the suppression of disease; to make regulations to prevent the introduction of contagious, infectious, or other diseases into the city; to make quarantine laws and regulations and to enforce the same within the city; to regulate, control and prevent the entry within the city of persons, baggage, merchandise or other property infected with contagious disease.”
“I know 1929 seems like a long time ago, but at the time the charter provision was included it wasn’t long after the community had experienced the Spanish Flu, when similar measures were put in place at that time,” said Rankin. “It’s not as if it was some theoretical need that the mayor and council might have in order to protect the community. It is a specific authority that the framers of the charter put together, embedded into the charter and that was approved by the voters of the city of Tucson and has remained part of the charter ever since.”
Rankin said the city had hoped to work with the county and the state to develop a regional or statewide mandate, but Romero eventually had to go it alone last June.
“It was important to have community protection,” said Rankin. “The mayor’s office and other mayors throughout the state had been working with the governor’s office to try to get these types of protections in place, statewide, and it became clear that that wasn’t going to happen, so ultimately the mayor and council took action and put mask requirements in place in June.”
In Ducey’s announcement, he questioned the efficacy of mask mandates noted that where mandates had been in place, they "have rarely, if ever, been enforced.”
Romero said that the mask mandate is enforceable, but the Tucson Police Department has been taking an “educational approach,” encouraging anyone without a mask to wear one, and people can be given written warnings for noncompliance.
However, she emphasized that they will not expend resources in ticketing people and said, “this is for the benefit of the health of our community and not to ‘gotcha’ people. It is to help them comply with a public health ordinance.”
Romero said they will continue to coordinate with the Pima County Health Department and listen to their feedback.
Pima County Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen will be issuing a new Public Health Advisory on March 26 to emphasize the need for continued mitigation and protection against the spread of COVID-19.
“As the governor readily admits, we are still in the midst of a public health emergency. People are still getting sick and dying. It is incumbent upon all of us to do everything we can to prevent the spread of this disease,” Dr. Cullen said. “We need everyone, not just businesses, to take this seriously. We are still in a very deadly situation and if we’re reckless in our behavior, it will get worse, especially now that the COVID variants are established in our county.”