Between Dec. 1, 2020, and Jan. 31, 2021, 854 county residents died from COVID-19. It was the worst two months of the pandemic in Pima County. Since then, cases, hospitalizations and deaths have steadily dropped. The reduction in COVID-19 cases and general exasperation with a year of isolation and physical distancing have many people ready to give up on protecting themselves and others from the disease.
The pandemic, though, is not over. We still have a long way to go. It’s important you remain vigilant and keep following the CDC and County Health Department guidance for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Wash your hands, keep physically distant from others who are not in your household, and, most importantly, wear a mask.
I’ve gotten used to my mask and when I go out, it feels strange if I’m not wearing it when walking to the mailbox and the like. But I will be happy when the day comes that I don’t have to wear it anymore. I like to see people’s smiles and I like them to see mine.
Our County Health Director, Dr. Theresa Cullen, wants everyone to keep wearing their masks because we don’t have enough people vaccinated yet and people are still getting seriously ill from this virus. There are still hundreds of thousands of county residents who still need to be vaccinated. The state, the Health Department and a host of others are giving shots of COVID vaccine as fast as they get them from manufacturers. We’re going as fast as we can. But it will be several more months until we get 700,000 or more county residents vaccinated and achieve so-called herd
Until then, it’s important we all do our part to protect the unvaccinated from COVID. That’s why the Face Mask Resolution passed by the Board of Supervisors in June and revised in December is still in effect. It requires people in Pima County to wear a mask when they are in public and can’t keep their distance from others.
Recently, Gov. Doug Ducey relaxed the state’s COVID-19 mitigation measures and said cities and counties couldn’t require people to wear masks. The governor has struggled to make good decisions throughout the pandemic and this one was particularly bad. When we’re this close to the end, we can’t just give up and quit. It’s like running a marathon for 24 miles and deciding the last two miles are too far.
The governor has created a confusing situation: The state says you don’t have to wear a mask, the county says you do. We had our County Attorney review the governor’s Executive Order and we believe he is claiming power he doesn’t have. The state Legislature gives county health departments broad authority to protect the public health, especially during outbreaks of contagious diseases.
There is nothing in state law that says the governor can nullify state laws. Therefore, we’re continuing to enforce the mask mandate as a necessary and reasonable measure to slow or stop the spread of an infectious disease.
Despite the rate of vaccinations, there is still a chance we could return to the horrible days of December and January where more than 50,000 people contracted COVID and nearly 1,000 died in just 8 weeks. There are now variants of the disease spreading in Pima County that are more contagious and more deadly and we don’t know how the vaccines will work with them yet. We’re still in a pandemic and need to act like it.
We’re near the end. Let’s not give up before the finish line. Please keep wearing your mask and help bring this pandemic to an end.
Supervisor Sharon Bronson serves District 3 in Pima County.