In a move that quickly sparked controversy, Mayor Tom Morrissey Thursday signed a proclamation that requires everyone to wear a mask while out in public.
The move came after Gov. Doug Ducey Wednesday removed a provision from his earlier proclamations and executive orders prohibiting local officials from imposing health requirements any stricter than what the state allowed — including a mandate for the use of masks.
Ducey said he was leaving it up to each jurisdiction to decide if they wanted to require masks. If they do, the mayor or chair of the supervisors can sign a proclamation or the governing body can enact an ordinance.
Morrissey signed a proclamation Thursday that requires “everyone who cannot reasonably maintain social distance of 6 feet must cover their mouth and nose with fabric or a mask,” according to a release from Acting Town Manager Sheila DeSchaaf and Fire Chief David Staub.
In it, it notes that Gila County has seen an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and that the increase is not entirely because of an increase in testing.
The number of cases in Gila County on June 3 was 37. On June 18, 104 cases, an increase of more than 300% in 15 days. On June 22, the number of cases in Gila County was 158. Of those, 39 had recovered and four had died.
The proclamation makes it so residents must wear a face covering while in public places and when working.
This also includes outdoor spaces such as playgrounds and parking lots and other areas “where persons stand in lines for entering an establishment.”
A mask must be worn when coworkers are within six feet, when being visited by a client/customer and anywhere the public or coworkers are regularly present.
A face covering is not required:
• In a personal office, so long as the public rarely visits the room.
• For children under the age of 2.
• For any person who cannot wear a mask because of a medical condition, mental health condition or developmental disability or who cannot remove a face covering without help.
• When eating, drinking or sleeping at a business or establishment.
Staub and DeSchaaf said a mask would also not be required for those exercising.
On his Facebook page, Morrissey said he decided with the safety of the community in mind.
“There has been a significant uptick in the spread of the virus and we also do not want to close businesses,” he wrote.
He asked that residents follow other safety measures such as social distancing and hand washing.
“Some of you are unhappy with this decision and others are quite happy. My concern is again, the safety of our residents and the health of our businesses. I believe this is the correct decision,” he wrote.
On Facebook, the response was divided.
Many residents praised the decision and thanked the mayor for requiring masks.
Others said it violated their rights and they had no plans to follow the order.
And some said they would just stay home.
DeSchaaf and Staub said the order would not be used as a citation tool. Enforcement would first focus “on educating and working to promote best practices to accomplish the goal of mitigation” prior to any action taken.
The order will be revisited in two weeks or sooner if the threat to public health subsides.
The Roundup reached out to the county to see if the board of supervisors was considering a mask ordinance, but had not heard back as of press time.