GLENDALE (AP) — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s decision to let local governments mandate face masks in public to slow the spread of the coronavirus amid a surge is leading to a patchwork of requirements around the state — the very thing Ducey wanted to avoid.
But it looks like most Arizonans — those in large parts of metro Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff — will be required to wear face masks until the infection rate drops significantly.
Mayors in those cities are working through executive orders or city council votes. Tucson Mayor Regina Romero signed her order Thursday. Action in Phoenix could come Friday.
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said she's working with nearby cities for consistency.
“I’m concerned many people in our community thought we’d defeated it and that life was going back to normal,” Gallego said Thursday. “As I’ve been talking about requirements for face coverings, it’s given me an opportunity to share the statistics in Arizona and the alarming trend.”
Public health officials also are alarmed. Arizona had the highest per capita rate of new infections over a seven-day average this week. The positive rate of people tested for the virus also topped all other U.S. states at nearly 16%.
And Arizona’s number of COVID-19 cases jumped again Thursday, breaking a daily record set earlier this week. The Arizona Department of Health Services reported 2,519 new cases and 32 additional deaths, bringing the state’s total to 43,443 with 1,271 deaths.
Ducey's Wednesday order allowing cities and counties to decide on masks came after he rejected calls for a statewide requirement. The Republican governor insisted for months on consistency across Arizona, preventing local governments from setting their own rules.
He also recognized the political reality: Republican lawmakers revolted when Ducey extended a stay-at home order by two weeks to May 15. Some sheriffs said they wouldn't enforce it.
“If you have 12 or 13 counties that say ‘pound sand’ on an executive order ... it’s a self-defeating executive order,” Ducey said, while wearing a mask for the first time at his weekly news conference and urging everyone to wear one in public.
Even with the new power, some local officials said they won't impose it.
“I’m not interested in going forward with a mask mandate,” Mohave County Supervisor Ron Gould said at a Thursday meeting where the board rejected any talk of a mask requirement. “I don’t believe that government mandates are effective."
In Apache Junction, a Pinal County town of about 42,000 on the eastern edge of metro Phoenix, Major Jeff Serdy said he believes a mask mandate would be unconstitutional.
“I don’t feel I have the authority to intrude on people’s lives like that,” said Serdy, who keeps a mask handy and supports businesses that require it.
Jeff McGrath, 49, lives in Cave Creek where the mayor announced Thursday that masks won't be mandated. McGrath, a criminal investigator, doesn't wear one because he doesn't believe it helps.
“I’m not a protester that goes out and bucks the system. At the same time, I just wish the government would kind of back off a little bit,” McGrath said. “There’s so many unknowns with this. It’s too premature to mandate this.”
Arizona might still be pressured to act. On Wednesday, Kansas added a travel ban on people from Arizona, requiring new arrivals to quarantine for two weeks. And California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday issued a statewide mask requirement.
Gallego said people should wear a mask outside their homes no matter the jurisdiction, citing science and public health experts who say it can slow the spread of coronavirus.
The governor's order said any enforcement should come after “education,” and Gallego agreed.
“I do not support jailing anyone over this, which would only increase the risk,” she said. “We will lead with education in the city of Phoenix. Our proposed ordinance suggests that a civil citation is an option but only as necessary and never as a first resort.”
Avondale Mayor Anna Tovar signed an executive order Thursday requiring masks in the western Phoenix suburb. She said Ducey missed an opportunity to set clear policy.
"The easiest solution could have been the governor just mandating masks statewide,” Tovar said. ”We could all guess ... why he did it or why he punted now to cities and towns."
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Associated Press writers Paul Davenport and Terry Tang contributed to this report from Phoenix.