Sahuarita not mandating face coverings, says they are encouraged

Conflicts arise in Pima County over wearing masks

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A conflicting stance on mandating masks is causing some confusion.

On Friday, the Pima County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance requiring face coverings in public for those over the age of five, with some exceptions. Hours later, the Town of Sahuarita said it would not be mandating face coverings.

At Monday’s Town Council meeting, residents had the opportunity to voice their thoughts during a call to the audience.

“Are we going to wear masks? Should we? Pima County says ‘Yes’, we are not sure,” said one man.

“Going without a mask is certainly more comfortable, but the reality is, my freedom ends – my freedom to swing my arm - ends where your nose begins,” said another.

Before the meeting, the Mayor of Sahuarita told KOLD News 13 there has been a lot of misunderstanding about the Town’s position.

“We have been pushing out different videos and communications saying, ‘Follow the C.D.C. guidelines, social distance, wear the masks’,” said Tom Murphy. “But having something as a mandate, where is the enforcement piece of that? I have a philosophy that if you are going to put something on the books; whether it’s a signed code or zoning, my expectation is you would want to enforce it.”

Murphy says enforcing a mask ordinance would tie up resources better used for crime and emergencies.

“I don’t think you’ll ever have 100% compliance, but I think our messaging has worked,” he said. “I want to focus more on educating and advocating as opposed to regulating.”

So, who holds the authority on face coverings; the Town or the County?

According to the Pima County Administrator’s Office, a city or town cannot opt out of the mandate. The County has independent public-health authority that supersedes municipal consent. That means if Pima County receives complaints about a business, health inspectors can investigate and request a business license or liquor license be revoked.

However, individual communities can decide whether to use their resources, such as law enforcement, on imposing the mandate.

“We have a good relationship with the County, I believe,” said Murphy. “So, I would imagine before they come into our Town to investigate, I would hope, they would reach out to us.”

Pima County Supervisor, Betty Villegas, says the County will “wait and see”. If they receive a lot of complaints from the reporting page, she says they will reassess the staffing level of inspectors.

“[The reporting page] gives me cause for concern,” said Murphy. “I’d rather have something set up where you are rewarding people, such as our Business Safety and Recovery program, as opposed to … I just think it could be ripe for abuse.”

Monday night, Town Council passed a fund making $600,000 of C.A.R.E.S. Act money available to businesses in Sahuarita. Employers can receive up to $10,000 to help them implement new safety regulations. The application process opens July 1st.

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