Last month, I represented Pima County at the annual meeting of the County Supervisors Association. All 15 of Arizona’s counties were represented and there was an admirable focus on the issues and interests that county governments share. Even in these polarized times, there was no evidence of the intense partisan divisions that bedevil our state and national politics.
The large county caucus we belong to includes Maricopa and Pinal Counties. Our board has a Democratic majority, but the other two counties have boards with Republican majorities. Nevertheless, when we met prior to the general meeting to determine our positions on the matters to be discussed with the small and medium counties, there was unanimity on every issue. Local government, the level closest to the people, should always be the least partisan.
When all 15 of the counties gathered to determine the priorities we would push for during the next session of the Arizona Legislature, there was consensus on the need to advocate for greater investments in broadband and transportation, for the state to stop passing the costs for its responsibilities on to the counties and for more action by the state in dealing with increased pension costs for public employees. There were differences of opinion between rural and urban counties on some other legislative issues, but the overall outcomes of our decisions were based in unity and acceptance of a common set of facts of what all counties need to move forward.
The COVID-19 pandemic has helped to exacerbate divisions that existed in our community before it hit us. It has also created new ones. One of the most significant has been the debate over mask wearing by students and staff in our K-12 schools.
My own beliefs are that masks have been an effective mitigation measure against the spread of all airborne viruses and that, at this stage of the pandemic, they primarily protect the unvaccinated, especially our youngest children. Both the Centers for Disease Control and the Arizona Department of Health Services strongly recommend mask wearing in schools. The Pima County Health Department agrees and has provided resources and support to all schools in our county throughout the pandemic.
Six of the nine major school districts in Pima County enacted mask mandates and one of those six has repealed theirs. Two of the other three voted against putting a mandate in place and the third has not brought the matter before their governing board. As these differing school district actions show, there has been intense debate on both sides of the issue throughout our community.
I have heard from many parents and grandparents who are concerned for the safety of the children they love if masking is not more pervasive in their schools. I have also heard from many parents and grandparents who are convinced that mask wearing does not protect against the virus and can be harmful to their children. One of the saddest features of the pandemic has been our failure as a nation to unite behind a common set of facts with regard to public health.
However, there is no questioning the love both sets of people have for the children in their lives. We all need to acknowledge and take joy in that fact. It may be one thing that helps us to come back together. We must stop demonizing each other. One way to reunite after the virus is defeated is to recognize the love we all have for our kids and use it as a basis for finding areas where we can work together to create the future community they need and deserve.