Ducey to give local leaders authority to institute mandatory mask policy

Jun 17, 2020, 3:32 PM | Updated: 4:04 pm
(KTAR News Screenshot)...
(KTAR News Screenshot)
(KTAR News Screenshot)

PHOENIX – Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Wednesday said he would give local governments the authority to make wearing face masks in public mandatory.

The move marks a major shift for Ducey, who’s been keeping rigid control of the statewide coronavirus response since he declared a public health emergency March 11.

“We are going to change and update guidance to that local governments can implement and face covering policies and determine enforcement,” Ducey said during a press conference.

Ducey’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected” executive order, which was in effect from March 31 to May 15, and the ensuing “Stay Healthy, Return Smarter, Return Stronger” order had provisions limiting local governments from enacting regulations related to the coronavirus pandemic that went beyond the state’s restrictions.

The number of cases reported in Arizona has been rising significantly since the start of the month. The amount of testing for the virus has generally increased, too, but so has the percentage of tests that are coming back positive.

During a press conference last week, the Republican governor focused on Arizona hospitals’ capacity to handle the increased number of patients.

And while he encouraged wearing face masks in public when near others, he resisted calls to make face coverings mandatory despite growing scientific evidence that the practice is effective in reducing the virus’ spread.

“I want to be clear,” Ducey said. “We recommend that all Arizonans wear a face mask whenever you can’t socially distance. At the grocery store, at the pharmacy, at the bank.”

Ducey has been under increasing public pressure from Arizona medical professionals and Democratic elected officials to take more action.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and Reps. Ruben Gallego and Greg Stanton have been pushing for face covering requirements, and the mayors in Phoenix, Tucson, Nogales and Flagstaff have been seeking the ability to enact local mask regulations.

In addition, several groups representing hundreds of medical professionals sent letters to Ducey in the past week asking him to enact face mask requirements and other protocols shown to reduce the spread of the virus.

The Arizona Department of Health Services reported 1,827 new coronavirus cases and 20 additional deaths Wednesday morning.

That increased the state’s documented totals to 40,924 COVID-19 cases and 1,239 deaths.

Wednesday’s case number was the second-highest total reported in a single day, behind the 2,392 reported a day earlier.

The health department has been providing case and testing updates on its website each morning. The dashboard includes, among other information, testing trends and updated hospital capacity data.

The daily reports present data after the state receives statistics and compiles them, which can lag by several days. They aren’t meant to represent the actual activity over the past 24 hours.

Overall hospital bed usage increased to a pandemic high of 85% on Tuesday, according to the state, and the percentage of ICU beds in use reached a high point of 83%.

The number of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients in Arizona hospitals increased Tuesday to a high mark of 1,582, up from 1,506 the previous day.

For the over 365,000 PCR tests given for active infections in the state, including 11,855 reported Wednesday, the positive rate increased to 8.9%, continuing an upward trend since the beginning of the month. It was 8.7% on Tuesday and 6.7% on May 31.

Of the PCR samples collected last week that have been processed, 15% have come back positive, surpassing the weekly high of 12% seen the previous week.

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Ducey to give local leaders authority to institute mandatory mask policy