During a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Doug Ducey said mayors around Arizona are allowed to require face masks within public jurisdictions. This announcement came as COVID-19 surged around Maricopa County and the entire state.
Over the past few days, medical professionals and Democratic politicians urged the governor to implement further precautions, such as mask wearing, according to the Associated Press. Arizona’s largest newspaper — The Arizona Republic — even called for legislative action.
In Flagstaff specifically, local leaders and city workers were focused on developing new safety measures, even before the governor's statement. Although most businesses reopened in mid-May after stay-at-home and business-closure orders ended, social distancing techniques are still followed at many locations.
“I have directed our City Attorney [Sterling Solomon] to begin working on amending our local emergency proclamation to require wearing masks in public,” Flagstaff mayor Coral Evans tweeted shortly before Ducey's briefing. “Public health experts agree — the time to #MaskUpFlagstaff is NOW.”
The Arizona Department of Health Services reported 1,827 new cases Wednesday, which showed a positivity rate of over 14% following 12,677 tests. Around the state, more than 1,200 deaths and 41,000 cases were confirmed since the pandemic started.
Eric Feigl-Ding, public health scientist at Harvard and senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, tweeted Tuesday that Arizona’s infection rate per one million people is currently the highest in the world. New York City and Madrid both documented higher figures at their peaks, although Feigl-Ding said Arizona could eventually surpass both cities.
Congressional candidate Anita Malik also shared a Twitter post Tuesday afternoon, specifically criticizing Ducey for his lack of statewide governance.
“We are rapidly becoming a case study in how to fail to protect people with proven measures,” Malik said. “@dougducey denial won’t make it go away. But masks have been shown to reduce the spread dramatically.”
During Wednesday's press conference, Ducey acknowledged the growing rates of COVID-19 around Arizona, explaining that “the trend is heading in the wrong direction.” However, he also defended his decision, saying that certain counties would not follow potential legislation mandating masks statewide.
According to The Arizona Republic, previous executive orders forbid cities from enforcing preventative measures that went beyond Arizona’s policies. In contrast, Wednesday’s announcement was an “abrupt reversal” from recent regulations, especially as it afforded local leaders more control.
Further information about Ducey's briefing can be found at the Office of the Governor.