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Mask rules are changing again in Pima County

Published: Dec. 24, 2021 at 7:31 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Once again during this grueling two years of COVID, the rules are changing again thanks to the new variant omicron.

“Make sure you’re vaccinated and “wearing a mask,” said Dr. Joe Gerald, the Public Health Director at the University of Arizona. “Upgrading that mask to KN-95 or higher.”

So those cloth masks we’ve been wearing are not going to offer the needed protection against the very highly transmissible omicron variant.

A cloth mask is okay as long at there’s a surgical mask underneath. A cloth mask should be a double mask.

It’s just one of a long list of changes and counter changes we’ve gone through since the pandemic began in earnest in February 2020.

“Public health right now is a hard sell,” Dr. Gerald said. “We are two years into this and many of the things we’re asking people to do require sacrifice of self to others and its a hard message even in good times.”

It’s a message also from Pima County Health and the Pima County Board of Supervisors which this week passed a new mask mandate without any enforcement or penalties for non-compliance.

The mandate requires people to be masked indoors if distancing can’t be maintained.

It’s more of a mandate of hope, hoping people will adhere to the rules without the fear of punishment.

“It’s that attitude that you know, it’s my personal choice, it’s my personal liberties, it’s my personal freedoms,” said District 5 Supervisor Adelita Grijalva. “You have to make decisions based on the community as a whole, to think about more than just yourself.”

There is some evidence that concern about the new variant is already having an impact of some people’s behavior.

“Mask usage is back up again,” Dr. Gerald said. “It’s not perfect but in public settings, I think more people are wearing a mask than not.”

So it appears some people have overcome the pandemic fatigue and the frustration that comes with the past two years.

“I understand the frustration,” Grijalva said. “It’s not like I enjoy wearing a mask all the time but I do it because it keeps the people around me safe and I hope other people will do that for me.”

Many will but it’s a long ways to “most will.”

“You’re not going to be able to convince everyone to do the right thing all the time,” Dr. Gerald said. “You’re trying to get more people to do the right thing more of the time.”

And then he added “recognizing that perfection is off the table and out of the ball game.”