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Pima County officially rescinds mask mandate, recommends unvaccinated to wear face-coverings

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TUCSON (KVOA) - The mask mandate in Pima County has officially been lifted after Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to rescind the order and put in place new guidance during an emergency meeting held Thursday afternoon.

Back in May, Gov. Doug 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 easing Arizona's COVID-19 mitigation measures such as not requiring an occupancy limit at businesses, Ducey took the next step in those efforts March 25 through a new executive order that included a section that phased out all mask mandates implemented by local governments, including Pima County Board Resolution 2020-96, which was put in place in June.

In opposition to the order, Pima County decided to continue to enforce its mask mandatesuspending or revoking a business's permit if they decide to not comply with the local mandate. For businesses in the county that are not required to have a permit, they would receive a $500 citation after three strikes of not complying with the mask mandate.

However, after Gov. Doug Ducey signed  House Bill 2770 into law on April 9, the countdown for Pima County's mask mandate was officially on as the new law would not require businesses in Arizona to enforce a mask mandate on its premise once it officially went into effect three months after the 2021 legislative session ends.

Despite the county initially moving to continue to enforce the mask mandate in the face of the recently signed state measure, the county's mask mandate was once again in jeopardy when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance on mask use Thursday.

This new guidance gave fully vaccinated people the OK to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings. Under the CDC's new guidance, fully vaccinated individuals would only be required to wear masks when on "planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling."

"I need to single out one more group to praise - the American people. The American people for more than a year, you've endured so much and so many lost jobs, so many businesses lost, so many lives upended, and so many months that our kids couldn't be in school," President Joe Biden said during a briefing at the White House Thursday. "And for now, after a year of hard work and so much sacrifice, the rule is very simple. Get vaccinated or wear a mask until you do."

During Friday's emergency meeting, the board was presented three options on how it could approach its mask mandate - amend its current mandate to only apply to unvaccinated individuals, rescind the mask mandate and implement new recommendations or just repeal the resolution in its entirety.

Under the approved resolution, Board Resolution 2020-96, which required everyone in Pima County to wear a face-covering when physical distancing can not be maintained, was officially rescinded.

"I think the really significant thing is the growing body of evidence that indicates that fully vaccinated people are less likely to have asymptomatic infections. This is what the CDC invoked (Thursday) symptoms, as well as the increased vaccination rates in the country for their recommendation. As a concise, reiteration of their recommendation - anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing." said Dr. Theresa Cullen, Pima County public health director. "The bottom line is that we are aligning ourselves with what the CDC indicated yesterday, what their guidance was for the country."

While the mask mandate was rescinded, the county still recommends the use of face coverings when using public transportation and at "health care settings, schools, correctional facilities, shelters, congregate facilities and any other setting where it is required by local, state or federal law."

In addition, the resolution also recommends all people who are not fully vaccinated wear a mask or face-covering when in a public place when physical distancing cannot be maintained.

"We are community leaders and showing our support for people wearing masks and for taking precautions makes a difference," board chair Sharon Bronson said. "To do nothing is bring us back where we were a year ago. I don't think any of us want to go there."

Pima County Board Supervisor Steve Christy was the only supervisor who voted against the resolution 2021-35.

"Over the last year, the Pima County of Board of Supervisors and the Pima County Health Department have inflicted constant confusion, harassment and economic damage upon businesses, students, athletes, parents, school districts, residents and our general economy. Pima County does not need any more health mandates, requirements or proclamations," Christy said. "Pima County does not need to be and should not be in the COVID-19, public health advice-giving business anymore."

As of Friday, 2,572,917 people in Arizona are fully vaccinated. Officials say 3,098,785 Arizonans have received at last one dose of the vaccine.

Arizona Department of Health Services said 43.1 percent of people are vaccinated at this time.

In Pima County, 40.1 percent of its population is vaccinated. This equates to 419,392 people receiving at least one dose and 356,837 fully vaccinated Pima County residents.

Arizona saw 854 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, bringing the overall number of positive cases to 972,022. Nine deaths were also reported Friday, bringing the state's COVID-19 death toll to 17,447.

Pima County only reported one new positive case. It currently has a total case county of 115,906 and 2,407 deaths.

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

For more information, visit azdhs.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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