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Mayor Romero, Pima County react to Ducey's decision to lift COVID mitigation measures

Regina Romero profile
Posted at 12:42 PM, Mar 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-25 19:08:36-04

TUCSON, Ariz. — Tucson Mayor Regina Romero and Pima County released statements on Gov. Ducey's decision to lift COVID-19 mitigation measures Thursday.

Romero says Gov. Doug Ducey's decision to roll back pandemic-related restrictions could put lives in danger.

Romero released this statement:

“Governor Ducey’s actions are pre-mature and will jeopardize Arizona lives unnecessarily. The vast majority of Arizonans are not fully vaccinated and the threat of more contagious, lethal variants remains. It is unfortunate that Governor Ducey is caving to political pressure from the far-right and hopping on the band-wagon of reckless actions of other Governors instead of following the science and doing what’s best for Arizonans.

“Removing local mask requirements is not linked to spurring our economy, as the Governor suggests. On the contrary, his actions could exacerbate community transmission, prolonging the pandemic and delaying a full and permanent re-opening of our economy.

“Our City Attorney has advised me that we have clear local authority to continue implementing our city mask mandate. As Mayor, I have no intention of removing our local mask wearing requirement. Last summer, I announced that we would proceed with implementing a local mask mandate before the Governor untied our hands precisely because we know we have the legal authority. Here in Tucson, we will continue to follow the science and advice of our public health experts.”

Pima County also released a statement, saying it disagrees with the governor's decision to lift mitigation measures:

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey March 25 barred Pima County from requiring everyone in the county wear a face mask when in close proximity to others in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He also is preventing Pima County from limiting gatherings of people where social distancing can’t be maintained, or requiring businesses, such as restaurants, bars, theaters, and gyms, to follow mitigation measures that limit occupancy and increase sanitation.

“The governor appears to have declared the pandemic over while still retaining his emergency powers to prevent local jurisdictions from protecting the public from a deadly infectious disease,” said Pima County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bronson. “We’ve seen this before. He imposed a shutdown order too late in 2020, then lifted it too early and we had the summer spike in infections. He’s making the same mistake and the tragedy of that is more people will needlessly get sick and may die by his reckless action.”

In March, more than 1,400 people have been infected with COVID-19 and at least 44 have died. As of March 24, there were 97 people in area hospitals with COVID-19, 29 of them in the ICU. Those numbers are higher than when the governor eased COVID-19 restrictions in May 2020 after a brief “Stay At Home” order. He then had to strengthen restrictions in July as infections and deaths rose.

“While the number of people vaccinated is slowly increasing, we only have about 174,000 people fully vaccinated in Pima County and only about 273,000 people have had at least one dose. We need to be between 700,000 and 800,000 fully vaccinated to have protection from the spread of the virus and the possibility of ending this pandemic,” said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia. “This is way too early to be easing mitigation measures. I fear this is going to set us back on the progress we’ve made and risk more illness and death.”

The governor in his announcement today asked businesses to voluntarily continue mitigation measures such as physical distancing and mask wearing. County Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen will be issuing a new Public Health Advisory March 26 that will 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. “I know the restrictions on business has been very difficult and some have had to stop operating. And we’re all tired of the masks and limitations. But I urge businesses to think about the safety of their customers and their own employees. We need people to keep wearing masks. We need people to limit their gatherings and how many people are in a closed area without ventilation. 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.”

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry noted the irony of Gov. Ducey's decision today, which the governor said was based on confidence on the speed of vaccinations, when the governor just prevented the federal government from providing an additional 210,000 vaccine doses to Pima County.

“While the governor acts like the pandemic is over, we know it’s not. Pima County will continue to take the necessary precautions to protect the public health at our facilities and properties, which includes leased properties. Masks will still be required in our buildings and properties, including among staff, and occupancy and physical distancing will still be enforced,” Huckelberry said. “Restrictions will ease in County parks, facilities, buildings and properties when our Health leaders and the science says it’s safe to do so. We’re not going to let politics drive our decision making when it comes to protecting public health.”

Supervisor Matt Heinz also released a statement Thursday afternoon:

“Governor Ducey effectively lifted mask mandates in Pima County and in communities across the state with his ill-advised executive order, and lifted all COVID-19 mitigation measures meant to reduce transmission of the disease and save lives. This reckless decision comes as we are in a race with time against the COVID variants that have already led to a spike in case numbers and hospitalizations in the northeast and Midwest, and have been found across Arizona, including Pima County. It also comes on the heels of the governor’s refusal, so far, to allow Pima County and FEMA to partner on a new vaccination POD that would bring up to 300,000 extra shots to vulnerable members of our community.

With only 16% of Arizona’s population fully vaccinated, and thousands of people every day clamoring to secure a vaccine appointment, we are far from the herd immunity needed to resume normal life in our state.

When Arizona was the number 1 hotspot in the world for COVID-19 at the beginning of this year, it wasn’t a fluke. That was a direct consequence of Governor Ducey’s decision making, and led to immeasurable loss. I shudder to think of what his decision today will bring.

One thing is certain: the inept executive order issued today will delay our ultimate return to a healthy economy.

Governor Ducey is playing political games with the lives of all Arizonans, and he must stop!”

Ducey's order prevents counties and cities from enforcing mask mandates. Romero says the city is challenging that authority. She has long tangled with Ducey over the mask mandate issue.

Organizers of large gatherings are still required to encourage safety precautions such as social distancing.