TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Pima County issued a statement saying it will defy the governor’s executive order to phase out mask mandates statewide in favor of voluntary actions.
Pima County health officials say the governor’s easing of restrictions has given many people the impression that the “pandemic is over.”
“I know everybody is sick of it, I’m sick of it,” said Dr. Francisco Garcia, the Chief Medical Officer for Pima County. “But the trade-offs are very serious.”
Those trade-offs are already beginning to appear in Pima County with an uptick in the number of cases and deaths following 10 straight weeks of declines.
“The deaths, the cases and the hospitalizations are real,” he said. “We can’t pretend it is business as usual.”
But the county says that’s what the governor did with his executive order easing restrictions and saying mask mandates will be phased out, although the governor still urges people to wear masks.
“It is unfortunate that this governor has taken this action that other people are interpreting as ‘the pandemic is over, the governor said so,’” Garcia said. “That’s how people are hearing it.”
But Pima County says it is trying to buy some time, maybe two or three months, in order to get to herd immunity where 75% to 80% of the population is vaccinated.
The county is nearing 30% now and feels it will reach its goal in late May or June.
“There is an end in sight and it will not be forever,” he said. “My expectation is that if we want to have a normal fall, we need to invest now in terms of mitigation.”
The county says it feels it has a legal right to defy the governor’s order because the state legislature has given the health departments the ability to “protect the health and safety” of its residents, even if that authority exceeds the governor’s.
“Bottom line, we believe in this case - with regards to the mask mandate - this was an overreach on the part of the executive (governor),” he said. “It’s up to the legislature and not the governor to determine what rights the counties are granted.”
When contacted, the governor’s office accused the county of political theater.
“It’s completely inconsequential. They’ve never enforced their mask mandate,” said the governor’s communication director CJ Karamargin. “It seems more like political grandstanding than anything else.”
But he also added that if circumstances change, the governor’s office reserves the right to change its mind.
In the meantime, the county’s Dec. 4, 2020, mask mandate stands.