As COVID-19 cases rise, war over face mask requirements brews in Pima County

Tucson business community, which is just trying to survive, has been caught up in the confusion

War over masks brewing in Pima County

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Arizona saw an 8% uptick in CVODI-19 cases last week.

So much so, Dr. Cara Christ, the director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, scheduled a series of interviews to remind people to mask up.

Whether that call will be heeded is still uncertain because of the confusion created in recent weeks over the efficacy of mask wearing.

“What’s the level of mask wearing you need," asked Pima County Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen. “Really we need to be at about 90%.”

But at this point, the county’s health department doesn’t know how many people are wearing masks.

The county tries to estimate usage based on complaints that flow into its tip line, but that is far from accurate.

“That’s not a very scientific way to track how many people are wearing masks,” Cullen said. “We just don’t know.”

Caught up in the confusion is Tucson’s business community which is trying to survive, like the Tucson Dragway.

Located on Pima County property at the fairgrounds, the dragway has twice been turned down for a permit to have a Rolling Thunder event at the facility.

It’s estimated the event would draw 2,400 fans even though the facility is large enough to accommodate up to 10,000, according to county spacing rules for large events.

“We have tried to jump through every hoop that we’ve been asked to,” said Matt DeYoung, manager of the Tucson Dragway. “We’re trying our best.”

According to a recent letter by the county health department, the plans for the event leaned towards those who seek mask exemptions rather than requiring everyone to mask up.

DeYoung said everyone is required to wear a mask but some people say they are medically exempted. The county rules say he can’t ask why.

“If someone says ‘medically, I can’t wear a mask’, then we can’t ignore that,” he said. “That’s a very fine line we don’t want to walk.”

“Our goal at the county is to get businesses reopened, to get events there but obviously to do it in a safe public health manner,” Cullen said. “And it’s a difficult balance.”

Pima County has approved 101 events at the fairgrounds since it recently set up rules and guidelines for gatherings that exceed 50 people.

DeYoung’s is the only permit that has been turned down.

He said his one event would have generated enough money that he could pay his employees and stay in business for another four months, getting him past the first of the year and giving his workers a paycheck during the holidays.

“Our racers, our fans understand if they don’t help participate in this whole stretch. we won’t have a track to go to,” he said. “And that’s what we want to make sure doesn’t happen.”

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