The Pima County Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted 3-2 to require everyone in the County to wear a face covering indoors when six feet of physical distance cannot be maintained.
The Board passed Resolution 2021-87 in response to a persistent surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the County, first brought on by the delta variant and now an expected larger spike from the more contagious omicron variant.
“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.”
In a Dec. 21 memorandum to the Board of Supervisors, Acting County Administrator Jan Lesher reported that in November Pima County had 15,851 cases of COVID-19 compared to 13,933 cases in November 2020. Last week the case rate in the County was 310 cases per 100,000 population, well in excess of a low point of 23 per 100,000 persons at the end of May. Diagnostic COVID-19 testing volume remains very high with 157,012 tests performed in November, and 74,981 tests in the first two weeks of December. The positivity rate continues to be elevated at 11 percent.
On Dec. 19, hospitals reported 119 COVID-19 positive individuals occupying 40 percent of ICU beds. Overall intensive care capacity continues to be extremely constrained across Pima County hovering at less than 3 percent adult ICU bed availability for a second month.
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. 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.
Lesher told the Board state law and other legal issues make it difficult for the County to enforce the mandate. Nevertheless, she advised the Board that the resolution was worth pursuing because it would serve as a “call to arms” for the community that during this period of high transmission, it is incumbent upon everyone in the community to rally together and do what’s necessary to protect themselves and others.
The mask requirement goes into effect immediately. Businesses and other establishments that wish to post signage requiring masks for entry can download them from the Health Department’s website.