PHOENIX — Four Democratic mayors called on Republican Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday to institute a statewide requirement for people to wear masks in public, a move that came as Arizona health officials reported over 4,000 additional known COVID-19 cases for the second consecutive day as well as increased hospitalizations.
They accused the governor of failing to provide leadership in the state’s battle against a new surge of the coronavirus.
“What we need is decisive statewide actions, and unfortunately we are not seeing that from Gov. Ducey,” Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said.
Ducey Chief of Staff Daniel Scarpinato pushed back on the request, noting that the mayors were doing little to enforce their own mask ordinances or ensure that existing safety measures put in place by the governor are being enforced.
“They have enforcement power, and they’re not using it,” Scarpinato said.
Ducey said at a news conference Wednesday that he would not impose a statewide order because 90% of the population is already under county and city mandates that he allowed them to implement in June and state orders require masks in gyms and some other businesses.
“I think the steps that we’ve put in place, the participation that we have, has got the maximum amount of compliance with Arizonans wearing a mask,” Ducey said. “In addition, it’s nearly impossible to participate in our economy anywhere without wearing a mask.”
That wasn’t good enough for the mayors, who also included Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans, Tolleson Mayor Anna Tovar and Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego.
“If we had a statewide mandate there wouldn’t be mixed messages. There would be a united front on how we’re tackling this issue,” Tovar said. “COVID doesn’t stop at our city limits. We are trying our best to do everything possible. But boy would it so much be easier if we had that leadership and that cooperation from Gov. Ducey.”
They also said Ducey has barred them from implementing any measures he did not approve.
Gallego and Romero did acknowledge that their police forces were not doing aggressive mask enforcement, saying it was county health departments that oversee compliance in businesses.
“The Phoenix Police Department has had hundreds of educational contacts with our residents talking about the importance of masks,” Gallego said. But “we believe that arresting people and putting them in jail where that would be one of the most likely areas of transmission is not the way to get through this.”
Their comments matched Ducey’s own preference for a focus on education. State health officials have shut down businesses that were not following guidelines, and on Thursday announced they had closed a Phoenix-area gym.
The state Department of Health Services reported 4,471 new cases Friday and 43 additional deaths, increasing the state’s totals to 291,696 cases and 6,427 deaths.
The number of reported infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
COVID-19-related hospitalizations in Arizona have climbed steadily since October and into November, reaching 1,835 as of Thursday, including 431 patients in intensive care beds.
The additional 4,000-plus daily new cases reported Thursday and Friday are near peaks recorded during Arizona’s summer surge while current hospitalizations are about half those of summer surge levels.
In other developments:
–On Friday, Banner Health joined the Mayo Clinic in banning most visitors because of the pandemic. The new Banner rule goes into effect in Arizona on Sunday evening.
–The Navajo Nation reported 351 new COVID-19 cases, which they say is a record high, along with five more deaths. The Navajo Nation has been hard-hit by the pandemic and has seen 623 deaths so far.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Associated Press writer Paul Davenport contributed.