Tempe joins Phoenix, Flagstaff in keeping mask mandate in place

The city of Tempe has joined Phoenix, Flagstaff and Pima County in keeping their mask mandate in place despite the governor's orders last month to lift them.

"Effective immediately, Tempe’s mask mandate will be enforced again at all places of public accommodation in the city, including at all businesses, public transit and city facilities," city officials wrote in a statement released April 8.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey had issued an executive order in late March lifting most of the state's COVID-19 restrictions, including local mask mandates and social distancing.

Under the order, businesses can choose whether to enforce mask wearing - however, cities, towns and counties must lift their mandates. Not all localities have followed the order, with Phoenix City Council opting to keep their mask requirements in place earlier this week.

Tempe city officials said they would use "establish science-based, objective thresholds" like COVID-19 vaccine rates and case count data to determine when they would end their mask mandate in the future.

"It’s not about politics," said Tempe Vice Mayor Randy Keating. "We’re not trying to play games with anybody, it’s about keeping our residents safe."

Gov. Ducey has brushed off the continued or reimposed local mandates, saying they were meaningless because local governments did virtually no actual enforcement.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich said in an informal opinion that Pima County can continue to enforce its face mask requirements, but noted the governor could order the state health department to issue rules barring local mandates or ignore the opinion and try to enforce his executive order on his own.

Business owners react

Chuck Marthaler, who owns the Palo Verde Lounge, has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The beloved dive bar remained closed all last year as a result of the pandemic, and is only open today thanks to a fundraiser that raised almost $15,000, with all dollars donated from the community that loves their neighborhood bar.

Related: Community rallies to save Tempe bar as owner deals with financial woes amid pandemic

"Would’ve probably shut down in February without that additional money. Really appreciate everyone who helped out with that," said Marthaler.

Marthaler says it's tough to keep up with COVID-19 rules.

"We abided by the rules from the get-go. That’s why we were closed over the years. As far as I know, the rules have been lifted. But I request people wear masks, we got hand sanitizers, social distancing just to be safe," said Marthaler.

On Mill Avenue, Varsity Tavern was quick to shed masks when Gov. Ducey lifted restrictions. Now, they will enforce the mandate again. Owner JD Ybañez says it’s frustrating.

"From a state, city, even national perspective, I think there’s a lack of transparency," said Ybañez. "Between governments, I think there’s a lack of coordination with local businesses."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Continued Coverage

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