Pima County imposes indoor mask mandate as omicron spreads across country

The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday, Dec. 21, to impose an indoor mask mandate as omicron becomes the dominant variant in the United States.
Published: Dec. 21, 2021 at 11:32 AM MST|Updated: Dec. 21, 2021 at 5:24 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday, Dec. 21, to impose an indoor mask mandate as omicron becomes the dominant variant in the United States.

Tuesday’s vote breakdown was:

  • Rex Scott -- No
  • Matt Heinz -- Yes
  • Sharon Bronson -- Yes
  • Steve Christy -- No
  • Adelita Grijalva -- Yes

The mandate, which can be read HERE, goes into effect immediately and requires masks indoors when social distancing is not possible. It could last through at least Feb. 28, 2022.

Businesses and other establishments that wish to post signage requiring masks for entry can download them from Health Department’s website.

“The public should view today’s vote as a rally cry for everyone in our community to take a simple and benign action that will go a long way to protect themselves and their community from the spread of a deadly disease,” said District 2 Supervisor Dr. Matt Heinz. “Masks work if everyone wears them. So please wear one and help our community slow and stop the spread of COVID-19.”

According to state law, businesses are not be required to enforce the mandate.

According to HB 2770 that was signed into law in April 2021, “a business in this state is not required to enforce on its premises a mask mandate that is established by this state, a city, a town or county or any other jurisdiction of this state.”

The county’s new mandate is not the same as the one lifted in May.

“We’re taking out pretty much all of the enforcement stuff,” Heinz said. “We’re not in the business of trying to embarrass the Circle K on 22nd and Tucson Blvd.”

In the last iteration, the county had strict requirements and a website that publicly named businesses that violated the mandate.

“We’re not doing the wall of shame sort of the website thing,” Heinz said. “We’re not doing any of that.”

The mandate passed Tuesday morning will not have an enforcement mechanism and there are no penalties for those who violate the mandate.

It’s hoped enough people will adhere to the mandate to lower the transmission rate a few percentage points, maybe enough to free up some bedspace which is sorely lacking in Pima County.

There are times when TMC and Banner Health have only one or two ICU beds available which precludes elective surgery or may postpone needed emergency surgery such as bypass operations.

Opponents of the mandate argue without teeth it will make business employees the enforcers, putting them in a bad position.

“If a new mandate is put in place today, it will be their charge, not ours to enforce it,” said District 1 Supervisor Rex Scott. “The demagoguing and politicizing the mask-wearing has grown more angry and intense.”

The county will instead hand out vinyl placards to remind people and businesses that face masks are required in all indoor locations where social distancing is not possible.

“The Board noted there is an enormous body of evidence from research conducted since the pandemic started showing masks work in slowing the spread of COVID-19,” the county said in an email. “Cloth masks help contain droplets from exhalation that may contain the virus and can reduce the amount of virus that is inhaled if a contagious person is near you. Medical-grade masks, such as N95s, if properly fitted can significantly reduce if not eliminate the inhalation of virus. Reducing exposure risk reduces the amount of transmission.”

On Monday, Houston reported the first death linked to omicron. The patient, a man in his 50s, was unvaccinated and had health issues.

On Tuesday, the University of Arizona announced it detected omicron in seven samples from its campus.

Copyright 2021 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.