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No mask mandate for Cochise County

BISBEE — Though diagnoses of people with COVID-19 are increasing in Cochise County, people outside of municipalities with a facial mask mandate in place will not have to wear them.

In a 2-1 vote Tuesday, the county of Board Supervisors did not approve a proclamation to require facial masks be worn in public in all the unincorporated areas of the county.

Supervisor Ann English supported the resolution and told Supervisors Peggy Judd and Tom Borer the Cochise County Board of Health was in favor of initiating the facial mask requirement and “do whatever is necessary to help stop the spread of the virus. Every hospital CEO asked us to mandate the masks. Why we are having an issue with a mask mandate, I don’t understand.”

She went on to say Gov. Doug Ducey wears one, recommends wearing one, “and a proclamation from the board shows we think it’s a public health problem and we should do what we can to protect our people.”

Judd said she heard from many of her constituents and most were opposed to the mandate. “I represent people who are conscientious and feel they can wear masks if they need to. They feel it’s against their right to freedom. I get it that the medical community want the mandate, but most of my people do not.”

She explained they wanted to be the ones deciding to wear masks or not.

Borer took time to research the numbers and found only four main areas within the county with virus problems – Sierra Vista, Douglas, Bisbee and Fort Huachuca. Those cities have put mask mandates in place. Benson and Willcox do not have any mandates.

In the rural zip codes of the county, cases continue to be low and a few zip codes had none.

“At this time, it does not bring my level of concern to take action,” he continued. “It’s not enforceable and can lead to citizen enforcement.”

He did not want to see people with masks accosting those without masks or vice versa. People have the responsibility to keep themselves and their children safe, he said.

In a letter to the supervisors, Ted and Susan Pahle supported the mask mandate.

“I would say that regardless of the mathematical percentages, 130,000 American families whose loved ones have already died, of which 1,810 were Arizonans and 14 of those were from Cochise County, would strongly disagree, that it is not, ‘...totally harmless’ as President Trump stated...” the letter states.

The Pahles and others in favor were in the minority of those who voiced their opinions to the supervisors.

Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels also wrote a letter in opposition to a mask mandate, mainly due to the problems of enforcement.

“I respect and admire your intent to keep our citizens safe, but the mandate of mask wearing provides an unrealistic enforcement application for this office,” he wrote.

“I would agree that cities are congestion points for our public based on the retail attractions and services cities provide. Non-incorporated areas are not designed for such congestion, especially in Cochise County where physical distancing is a natural norm.

“Currently, my jail staff and deputies have worked diligently to maintain a healthy and safe working environment that includes safety measures for everyone. Exposing my deputies to an added burden to enforce this proclamation only serves to confuse, expose and conflict my office with our public.”

After the vote was taken, Borer urged everyone to be safe and take responsibility “for your health” and the “county will continue to provide educational resources.”

ALL ON THE LINE: SEACOM dispatchers to receive additional training to help save lives during 911 calls

SIERRA VISTA — Dispatchers at the Southeast Arizona Communications center will soon be able to provide 911 callers with more life-saving instructions, county officials said this week.

The dispatchers at the SEACOM facility will receive training later this month that will enable them to guide a caller through a medical or fire emergency until paramedics and emergency medical technicians arrive at the scene, said SEACOM Director Allen Smith.

Once they complete the 48-hour training — which will cost $247,000 for three days of class, testing and software updating — the 16 dispatchers at the communications center will be certified emergency medical and emergency fire dispatchers.

Smith said the certification must be renewed and that involves continued training. Priority Dispatch Corp. provides the training and provides the software program for the dispatchers.

Smith said the new responsibilities for his dispatchers will be an added benefit for anyone calling SEACOM for help.

“This will add an increased level of safety for our citizens,” Smith said earlier this week.

As it stands now, dispatchers are not allowed to give a caller any emergency medical or emergency fire instructions, regardless of the situation. Liability issues and lack of training prevent them from doing so, said Communications Supervisor Melissa Clark.

But starting Sept. 15, when the new policy takes effect, dispatchers will be equipped with more tools to help save a life.

“Sometimes there’s an extended arrival time for an ambulance,” Clark said. “During that time we’ll be providing as much help as we can (to the caller.)”

Kevin Venos, director of Healthcare Innovations, an ambulance company now dispatched by SEACOM, said the dispatchers’ new duties will undoubtedly help his paramedics and emergency medical technicians headed to a call.

The ambulance company — which averages about 400 calls a month — covers 3,300 square miles, including all of northern Cochise County from the Pima County line to the New Mexico border, a small portion of Pima County and mutual aid to Graham County.

“The trained dispatchers giving out instructions to 911 callers will be a huge help (to us) and a time saver,” Venos said. “They’ll be giving the caller instructions as we’re driving. When we arrive the caller may already have gotten a lot of help.”

Cochise County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carol Capas said allowing dispatchers to give callers more assistance will also help the dispatchers. She said the inability to provide more information to desperate callers was frustrating many dispatchers because they couldn’t do more to alleviate the person’s situation.

Feedback from dispatchers about the upcoming changes has been positive so far, Clark said.