On a 4-3 vote during an emergency special session on Friday, June 19, the Fountain Hills Town Council voted it would not institute a mandate calling for residents to wear face masks in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19. Within a couple of hours of that vote the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to implement its own county-wide requirement that people wear face masks.
While the BOS vote did not override any community that had voted to require the masks, it would supersede any decision to not have a mask requirement.
The contrasting decisions by these governing bodies are a reflection of the significant division – at least among political decision-makers – regarding how to address coronavirus. The council spent more than an hour in discussing and listening to members of the public regarding the mask requirement. The supervisors reportedly spent up to five hours in discussion before its vote.
By all appearances from being out and about over the weekend, people were having no problem adhering to the county mask requirement, which went into effect at midnight Saturday.
However, the discussion before the Town Council was passionate on both sides and contentious, with Mayor Ginny Dickey having to use her gavel on several occasions in an effort to control people from speaking out of order.
Gerry Friedel, who is a candidate for Town Council in the upcoming election, said he believes the community is doing a good job practicing CDC guidelines to stem the virus.
“Most businesses have gone above and beyond,” Friedel said. “Any new regulation you impose, you should consider the recovery of businesses in town. People know how to mitigate the risk.”
Brandon White told the council to stop making decisions based on fear.
“COVID is here, it is highly contagious and you are not going to change that,” White said. “This is crazy, are we going to wear a mask the rest of our life? Get used to living with it and invite freedom-loving people who will come here.”
Diane Price identified herself as a person “at risk” and said it has impacted her decision making.
“I spend far less money in town because people are not wearing masks,” Price said. “If you make it mandatory it will take the business off the hook.”
Other speakers reminded the council that using a mask results in the user breathing their own carbon dioxide back into their system. Some cited loss of freedom and a rise of authoritarian socialism in the country and called it government overreach.
Supporters also felt the need to consider the welfare of all and not just the individual.
Town Clerk Liz Burke maintained a tally of positions as stated. Speakers at the meeting accounted for eight opposed and five supporting the use of masks. Comment cards received by the town ahead of time indicated 15 in support with two opposed. Dickey said her email tally showed 95 in support of a mask mandate with 23 opposed. Councilman Art Tolis countered by saying emails he received were roughly the exact opposite of the mayor’s.
Tolis said this is a difficult decision.
“It may be the most important decision we make with regard to personal freedom,” Tolis said.
He noted that his own parents, in their 80s, are afraid to go out of the house.
“I believe in personal freedom, and I’m not going to force anyone to wear a mask,” Tolis said.
Dickey said she does not wear a mask out of fear, but believes it to be an effective method to curb the virus.
“This allows employers to protect their customers and protects the employees,” Dickey said. “It is a way to avoid having to do something more drastic until there is an effective treatment.”
Dickey said both the Fountain Hills Chamber of Commerce and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce support the mask requirement.
Vice Mayor Mike Scharnow said he agrees there are many pros and cons on both sides of the argument and maybe no certain answers. However, the issue that seemed to sway his vote to oppose was one of enforcement.
“I don’t want to put MCSO in the position of having to enforce this,” Scharnow said. “They don’t have the resources.
“I think this is important and we certainly should encourage people to wear masks in public.
“You can only do so much to regulate common sense.”
Councilman Alan Magazine was one of the three votes in favor of the mask requirement. In an email he sent to The Times over the weekend he said he had a problem with the voting procedure that was used.
“I’m quite disappointed in the majority of the Town Council,” Magazine said. “The mayor of our town began a statement regarding a resolution requiring the wearing of face masks. Everyone else had the opportunity to speak but she was cut off in mid-sentence by a call for the question which meant, if a majority agreed, there would be no more discussion.
“(That motion) passed by a vote of 5 to 2. In my view that is no way to show respect for a colleague. We can certainly disagree on policy matters, but muzzling people is not right.”
A statement released by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors after their vote says the regulations create consistent minimum mask-wearing requirements across all jurisdictions while allowing cities and towns to set their own policies and regulations related to face coverings.
“We know thousands of people move through different cities and towns in Maricopa County every day,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Clint Hickman. “The regulations are based on the recommendations of our Public Health Department and they give residents an understanding of the rules no matter where they are within the County.”
Some cities and towns have already passed proclamations and emergency orders requiring face masks. This county regulation does not interfere with those local decisions. In communities like Fountain Hills where face masks were not previously required, however, the MCBS regulation supersedes those decisions.
Board members said they hope other governments will take advantage of the expertise from Public Health and create consistent rules in their communities. Some highlights from the regulations include:
*People older than six must wear masks in enclosed public spaces.
*Adults with children two to five years old must make reasonable effort to make them wear masks inside enclosed public spaces.
*All riders and operators on public transportation must wear a mask.
*Staff working in public spaces (such as restaurants or stores) must wear masks.
“We are hoping residents and cities and towns will partner with us during the pandemic,” Hickman said. “We have seen more than 60 percent of total cases in the past three weeks. This will not stop unless the public consistently takes action to prevent the spread.”
The regulations include exemptions from wearing masks that include:
*The regulations do not apply to people in homes.
*Children under two years old.
*Restaurant patrons while they are eating and drinking.
*People walking or exercising outdoors (while maintaining six feet of distance).
*When in a personal vehicle, office or other personal space.
Enforcement is the responsibility of law enforcement and per the governor’s executive order 2020-40, it should focus on educating the public about the dangers of community spread, according to the announcement. An officer is expected to promote best public health practices and provide a warning, but if a person refuses to put on a face covering again, they can face a fine of not more than $50.