In the face of the spreading COVID-19 epidemic, the Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to declare an emergency and order bars, breweries, gyms, movie theaters and other spaces where people gather in unincorporated Pima County to close their doors by 8 p.m. tonight.
Democrats Richard Elias, Ramon Valadez and Sharon Bronson voted in favor of the closure, while Republicans Ally Miller and Steve Christy were opposed.
The closures are through March 31.
The order would not affect grocery stories, pharmacies, food banks, banks and some cafeterias located inside hospitals, nursing homes or food vendors at Tucson International Airport.
The declaration would also encourage churches and the houses of worship to limit gatherings on their premises.
Christy, who voted against the proclamation of an emergency, said he had serious problems with the measure, indicating he would rather the supervisors follow the actions of governments like Oro Valley, Marana and South Tucson, which have released statements that “urge” and “advise” businesses to utilize social distancing practices, but does not mandate any serious action be taken.
Supervisor Ally Miller was in agreement with him.
“We need to weigh the economic impact against the possibility of transmission,” Miller said. “If we implement these draconian measures, how long before these businesses are forced into bankruptcy? How long before these people can’t pay their rent?”
Miller said people are still able to go into grocery stores and congregate there, so restaurants should be able to stay open. She said she was concerned about the panic that would ensue if these measures are taken.
“Do we believe that is necessary at this point?” Miller said. “No one really knows what is going to happen here. We’re a little premature with this action. … This proclamation is shutting down our community.”
Valadez said that this emergency proclamation will give people a sense of confidence in their government, and will show them that they are working on this issue and can come back to the public with a more robust plan in two weeks.
“It's going to hurt,” Valadez said. “I understand the concern, but [closures are] already happening and it's going to continue to happen. Absent doing something, there's a lot of unknowns. We don't know a lot about the disease.”
Dr. Bob England, interim director of the Pima County Health Department, said the medical community is “drinking from a firehouse” right now in terms of new daily information about the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Bronson said the virus' spread was "serious and real and we need to get real."
“We are probably looking at up to 18 months,” Bronson said. “So this is an emergency and the restaurants are already voluntarily complying. They are doing takeout.”
But Christy warned the economic damage would be long-lasting.
“This board will have the issues of what comes after on their backs,” Christy said. “They will be responsible when people can’t make their mortgage payments, car payments and college loans payments.”
Miller said this measure will “create complete panic.”
“This is something we need to move forward with,” Elías said. “We shouldn't let fear mongering and unfair accusations rule the day here.”
The board's vote follows Tucson Mayor Regina Romero's emergency declaration yesterday, which closed similar establishments and limited restaurants to take-out and drive-thru service.
Restaurants in Oro Valley and Marana remain open. Officials in those towns have said they are waiting to see what Pima County does.
As of today's Arizona Department of Health Services report, Pima County has five confirmed cases of COVID-19. A total of 265 people have been tested for COVID-19; total of 15 people have tested positive, 102 cases are still pending and 148 have been ruled out. Statewide numbers updated here.
According to the CDC, COVID-19 symptoms typically occur two to 14 days after exposure, and include fever, cough and shortness of breath. However, some cases of the virus are entirely asymptomatic. Practices to avoid infection include social distancing (of at least six feet), washing your hands, avoiding unnecessary trips and not touching your face. COVID-19 can survive on cardboard for up to 24 hours, and on stainless steel and plastic surfaces up to three days. If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop a fever and symptoms, call your healthcare provider for medical advice.
For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.