Arizona Gov. Ducey to allow local governments to draft their own face mask policies as COVID-19 cases spike

During a news conference Wednesday, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey announced that local governments within the state will be allowed to set their own rules on the use of face masks.

According to Gov. Ducey, local governments can implement mask and face-covering policies, and determine enforcement.

"Any enforcement of such a policy shall focus first on education and working to promote best practices to accomplish the goal of mitigation," read a portion of an executive order issued by Gov. Ducey. "An individual shall be notified of the provisions of this order or any policy adopted by a county, city or town and given an opportunity to comply prior to any enforcement action being taken."

Cities, counties taking action

Prior to the news conference, the mayors of Flagstaff, Tolleson and Tucson have said they have directed their city attorneys to amend their emergency proclamation to include a provision that requires the use of masks in public. Tolleson is located in the West Valley.

In Phoenix, Mayor Kate Gallego announced on Twitter Thursday morning that Phoenix City Council will vote Friday on whether to mandate face masks for residents going to essential businesses and in public spaces.

"I fully support this measure," said Mayor Gallego, in the tweet. "We will only overcome this virus by working together."

Following Gov. Ducey's news conference, Mesa Mayor John Giles said he will issue a proclamation to require the use of masks within the city. Tempe's outgoing mayor, Mark Mitchell, also announced that face masks will be required in places of public accommodation.

While voters in Tempe selected Corey Woods as their next mayor in an election on March 10, 2020, Woods will not be sworn in as mayor until July, according to the city's website. 

Meanwhile, three Valley cities -- Chandler, Gilbert and Glendale, will hold special city council meetings in the coming days to discuss measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including a mandate for residents to wear masks.

In southern Arizona, Pima County's Board of Supervisors will hold a special meeting on the afternoon of June 19 to consider whether or not to require the wearing of face masks in public.

Gov. Ducey wore mask to news conference

On Wednesday morning, hours prior to the news conference, Gov. Ducey made a tweet on his Twitter account that urged Arizonans to wear masks. Gov. Ducey, however, has not decided to issue a mandate requiring it.

Gov. Ducey was also seen wearing a mask as he walked into the room where the news conference would take place, although he took it off as the news conference began. When Gov. Ducey was asked on why he has chosen against issuing a statewide mandate, he said every county is experiencing different issues, with some having a higher number of cases than others He also said there have been many calls from local leaders for this action.

COVID-19 pandemic continues to worsen in Arizona

Wednesday's news conference came after a week of record-breaking new COVID-19 case numbers in the state. On Wednesday alone, 1,837 new cases were reported in the state. More than 2,300 cases were reported a day earlier.

Hundreds of doctors have penned letters to the governor urging for more state action as hospitalizations have risen significantly over the past few days.

Hospitals were treating 1,582 patients on Tuesday, an increase of more than 500 from two weeks earlier. Emergency room visits for patients with virus symptoms soared to nearly 1,100. On June 3, hospitals reported seeing 638 patients in the ER.

This increase in hospitalizations has led to a high demand for nurses, with Arizona medical facilities reaching out beyond state lines for assistance from nurses across the United States.

Statewide Tuesday, hospitals were at 85% of capacity - well above the 80% rate where Gov. Doug Ducey said they would have to halt elective surgeries to preserve space. For now, however, state officials say elective surger

During the news conference, Gov. Ducey said Arizona is "not out of the woods," but maintained there is enough room for those who are ill with COVID-19.

"Today, we have hospital capacity and we intend to keep it that way," Gov. Ducey said.

RELATED: Navajo Nation resumes weekend lockdowns as Arizona coronavirus cases rise

Right now there's one big difference between flu and coronavirus: A vaccine exists to help prevent the flu and it's not too late to get it. It won't protect you from catching the coronavirus, but may put you in a better position to fight it.

And if you do find yourself showing any of these flu or coronavirus symptoms - don't go straight to your doctor's office. That just risks making more people sick, officials urge. Call ahead, and ask if you need to be seen and where.

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