Pima County keeps mask mandate in defiance of Gov. Ducey

Pima County officials said on March 30 they will continue to enforce a mask mandate to contain the spread of COVID-19, joining a group of local leaders defying Gov. Doug Ducey’s order banning government requirements for face coverings.

Officials in Arizona’s second-largest county said health inspectors will continue enforcing mask requirements in restaurants, and other businesses face fines of up to $500 or the loss of their operating permits.

"We believe we are on solid ground," said Dr. Francisco Garcia, Pima County’s chief medical officer. "Do we believe we are going to be challenged on this? Absolutely. Bring it on."

Garcia said the county had 10 straight weeks of declining COVID-19 cases before an increase last week. "So this is real and this is concerning. And this is the reason we cannot let up on masking mandates in Pima County," he said.

Ducey last week lifted his remaining coronavirus restrictions, including limits on large gatherings and capacity restrictions in some gyms. He also issued an executive order blocking local public health restrictions, including mask mandates.

RELATED: Arizonans continue to react to Gov. Ducey's decision to lift COVID-19 restrictions

Local authorities maintain the governor has no power to block them from taking steps to protect health in their communities. The mayors have Flagstaff and Tucson have also defied Ducey and maintained their mask mandates.

A spokesman for Ducey, C.J. Karamargin, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. His aides have previously said lifting mask mandates is justified because vaccination is increasing, virus cases are declining and very few tickets were issued to people failing to over their faces.

Mayors say tickets are necessary for mask mandates to be effective because most people comply when told it’s required. Some business owners also say it’s easier to enforce mask wearing in their establishment when they can point to a government order.

Research indicates the coronavirus spreads through respiratory droplets that are emitted when people breathe, talk, cough or sneeze. Public health experts worry that lifting restrictions too soon will allow the virus to spread to more unvaccinated people and potentially mutate in ways that make vaccines less effective.

Meanwhile, Arizona’s death toll from the coronavirus outbreak is approaching 17,000.

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Symptoms for coronavirus COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. These, of course, are similar to the common cold and flu. 

Expect a common cold to start out with a sore or scratchy throat, cough, runny and/or stuffy nose. Flu symptoms are more intense and usually come on suddenly, and can include a high fever. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear more slowly. They usually include fever, a dry cough and noticeable shortness of breath, according to the World Health Organization. A minority of cases develop pneumonia, and the disease is especially worrisome for the elderly and those with other medical problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or heart conditions.

RELATED: Is it the flu, a cold or COVID-19? Different viruses present similar symptoms

To protect yourself, wash your hands well and often, keep them away from your face, and avoid crowds and standing close to people.

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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