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Tucson mayor has ‘no intention of removing’ mask mandate after state lifts all COVID-19 mitigation measures

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PHOENIX (KVOA) - Bars and large events have been cleared to resume operations after Gov. Doug Ducey lifted all of the state's COVID-19 mitigation measures through a new executive order made Thursday morning.

Back in May, Ducey enacted his "Stay Healthy, Return Smarter, Return Stronger" that slowly allowed businesses to reopen that were previously restricted under the initial state's Stay-At-Home Order.

A few weeks after the governor began lifting COVID-19 mitigation measures such as not requiring an occupancy limit at businesses, Ducey took the next step in those efforts Thursday after the state reportedly saw 10 weeks of declining COVID-19 cases.

Under this new executive order, Ducey will phase out all mask mandates implemented by local governments, including the ones put in place by both the City of Tucson and Pima County in June.

"Unlike some other states, Arizona never issued a statewide mask mandate, and instead encouraged personal responsibility with an aggressive educational campaign — resulting in more widespread mask usage than states with mandates," the governor's office said. "Some local governments have implemented 'mandates,' however, they have rarely, if ever, been enforced. Under this latest action, those local mandates will be phased out. Mask usage is still encouraged, especially in groups that are not vaccinated."

In addition, this executive order will allow bars to resume regular operations at full capacity. Businesses will no longer be required to implement COVID-19 mitigation practices - they will simply be recommended under the executive order.

Events of more than 50 people will also no longer be required to receive approval from local governments to be held. However, they are advised to follow "safe practices and CDC recommendations, including physical distancing."

“As we’ve said all along, distribution of the vaccine is our best path to getting back to normal, and I want to thank the millions of Arizonans who have rolled up their sleeves to make the distribution and uptake so successful,” Ducey said. “In Arizona, we never did a shutdown, so it’s impossible to have a grand reopening. Instead, we are continuing to take reasonable, safe and sensible steps. The measures put in place last summer allowed Arizona to fight back COVID-19. I want to thank the local leaders who supported these efforts with their own measures, and the businesses who implemented them. Today, we are in a different spot, and we are also a lot smarter. I’m confident Arizona’s businesses and citizens will continue to practice the fundamentals and act responsibly as we gradually get back to normal."

Shortly after the announcement, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero shared that at this time, she has no intention of lifting the city-wide mask mandate that has been in place since June.

"I, unfortunately, found out about it when everyone else in Arizona did," Romero said during a press briefing Thursday. "We are not going to sue the state at all. That is not my intent. My intent is to protect Tucsonans and do everything that is at our disposition to be able to protect our community ... According to our city attorney, we, the Mayor and Council, have the authority to keep our mandatory to keep our mask mandate in order to keep the health and safety of our residence."

WATCH LIVE: Mayor Regina Romero holds a press conference to discuss Gov. Ducey’s COVID-19 mitigation executive order. https://bit.ly/3rpoTWB

Posted by News 4 Tucson - KVOA on Thursday, March 25, 2021

Over on the county level, Pima County Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen said she plans to issue a new Public Health Advisory Friday that will "emphasize the need for continued mitigation and protection against the spread of COVID-19."

“While the governor acts like the pandemic is over, we know it’s not. Pima County will continue to take the necessary precautions to protect the public health at our facilities and properties, which includes leased properties. Masks will still be required in our buildings and properties, including among staff, and occupancy and physical distancing will still be enforced,” Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said. “Restrictions will ease in County parks, facilities, buildings and properties when our Health leaders and the science says it’s safe to do so. We’re not going to let politics drive our decision making when it comes to protecting public health.”

With state-run vaccination sites dropping their age eligibility to 16 years old on Wednesday, 3,041,773 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have administered to 1,927,278 individuals in Arizona so far. Of those, 1,185,986 have been fully vaccinated.

The state-sponsored facility at the University of Arizona is expected to open 12,000 more first-time COVID-19 vaccination appointments at 11 a.m. Friday.

To register for an appointment, visit podvaccine.azdhs.gov or azhealth.gov/findvaccine, or call 1-844-542-8201.

RELATED: Pima County unanimously votes to invite FEMA to set up vaccine site after offer rejected by state

“Throughout the pandemic, I’ve heard from my constituents who have been facing unprecedented challenges,” said Senate President Karen Fann. “Small business owners have shown resilience and strength and our citizens have shown strong personal responsibility. Governor Ducey’s guidance protects public health and entrusts Arizona businesses and citizens to continue taking the precautions that will keep everyone safe. Thank you, Governor Ducey, for following the science and getting Arizona back open."

On Thursday, Arizona saw 138 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the overall total to 837,987 cases. The death toll also rose to 16,874 after reporting 32 related deaths.

Pima County's totals currently sit at 112,045 known cases and 2,339 related deaths after reported 47 new cases and one new death that day.

The University of Arizona also detected the B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus on campus Thursday. The B.1.1.7 variant was first detected in the United Kingdom in 2020. 

"The continued relaxation of prevention measures while cases are still high, and while concerning variants are spreading rapidly throughout the United States, is a serious threat to the progress we have as a nation,"  Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director said during a media briefing Thursday. "We must find the fortitude to hang in there for just a little bit longer. We are at a critical point in this pandemic, a fork in the road where we as a country must decide which path we are going to take. We must act now and I am worried that if we don't take the right actions now, we will have another avoidable surge, just as we are seeing in Europe, right now."

To view the executive order in its entirety, visit azgovernor.gov.

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Anthony Victor Reyes

Anthony Victor Reyes is the lead digital content producer at News 4 Tucson. The award-winning journalist previously worked as a community reporter in Jasper County, Iowa.

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