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Coronavirus
Mask mandate tightening for post; biz owners react to city order

SIERRA VISTA — Army officials at Fort Huachuca have issued a new, definitive order on face masks for soldiers, while the city’s mandate on masking up depends mainly on the feasibility of social distancing and has some local businesses on the fence about how they’ll enforce the new edict.

And at least two major grocery store chains said masks are not required, but they either strongly suggest their use, or hope shoppers adhere to local or state legislation on the matter.

While Sierra Vista city officials issued their mandate on face masks last Friday, Major General Laura Potter, the commander of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence and Fort Huachuca, issued a third general order that spells out more stringent rules on soldiers and face masks, among other things.

The order states that service members must wear face masks off-post, even if social distancing occurs. They are to be worn, “While inside all public buildings off of the installation regardless of the ability to maintain six feet of social distance.”

It also says masks must be worn in restaurants, except when eating and drinking. If the service member is waiting for his or her meal or drink, for example, the mask must be on.

While soldiers are on post, the masks must be donned inside the commissary, the post exchange, “or other commercial establishments.” Additionally, “all personnel” have to wear masks when inside “all other government buildings” at the installation when social distancing isn’t possible.

The tighter restrictions for service members for masks off-post, said Fort Huachuca spokeswoman Tanja Linton, is aimed at helping keep the soldiers who are restricted to the installation stay as healthy as possible.

“The stricter requirement (is) to enable to continue one of our priority missions here which is training new soldiers to go out to the force,” Linton said in an email Tuesday.

“While soldiers doing their advanced individual training here are not permitted to leave post, we are doing all we can to minimize their possible exposure to COVID-19 so they can successfully finish their training and go on to their first duty stations.”

Sierra Vista officials on Friday put out an emergency order that’s more lenient. The order says masks must be worn in public, “if you cannot be assured that you can maintain a minimum of six feet in physical distance from another person,” said city spokesman Adam Curtis.

“If a person is in a public space and can continuously maintain a physical distance of at least six feet from other people, then a mask is not required,” Curtis said in an email. “Masks are still highly recommended whenever a person is out in public.”

Prior to the emergency order taking effect, the difference, Curtis said, was that masks were only recommended, not required.

The order signed by Mayor Rick Mueller, also states that commercial businesses have until midnight Wednesday, July 1, to comply.

A handful of locally owned businesses in the city said they’re preparing for compliance as far as their employees go, but only one of the three contacted by the Herald/Review said they would require masks if social distancing was not possible.

Sierra Vista Ace Hardware Store Operations Manager Sara Arsenault said the business would follow the city’s order and a mask would be necessary if social distancing could not be practiced. Employees must wear masks, Arsenault said.

“It will be particularly difficult to social distance in parts of our store,” Arsenault said. “We will be putting up signs tomorrow (Wednesday) that say, ‘Face coverings or shield required for entry.’”

At Livia’s Coffee on Wilcox Drive, employees must also wear face masks, but patrons are being asked to put them on only when placing their order, said manager Stephanie Mendez.

“I don’t think we’ll be putting up any signs,” Mendez said. “People can’t wear a mask when they’re eating and drinking. If someone doesn’t wear a mask when they order, we will not ask them to leave.”

Mendez said several of her customers wear masks anyway. She said some patrons however, have mentioned that they find the city’s order somewhat confusing.

Mueller, in an email earlier this week, said a mask should be worn if there is doubt.

“Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey says a face covering or shield is highly recommended whenever a person is out in public in Arizona in order to slow and contain the spread of COVID-19,” Mueller said.

“When in doubt on whether a face covering or shield is required in certain situations, people in Sierra Vista are urged to err on the side of caution and mask up.”

Local eatery owner Michelle Bobke, owner of Bobke’s For Lunch on Wilcox, said Tuesday that she welcomes the next two weeks of vacation that she and the restaurant staff take every year in July, so that she won’t have to deal with the mask issue. Bobke said her workers are required to mask up, but not her customers.

“All these rules and regulations keep changing and people are a little stressed,” Bobke said. “I think Mayor Mueller is doing the best he can. This is a no-win situation. Whatever you do is going to be wrong for somebody.”

But national supermarket chain Safeway is counting on shoppers to follow local and state orders.

“We require our associates to wear masks and expect that our customers follow all applicable local and state regulations with respect to face coverings for their protection and for that of our employees,” Keane said in an email.

Tiffany Wilson, a spokeswoman for Walmart, echoed that.

"We encourage customers to wear masks and reinforce the need to social distance via signage," Wilson said. "We strongly encourage all customers to adhere to the decisions made by local officials regarding the use of protective facial coverings because we all need to do our part in the interest of public health."


Schools
Superintendents react to delayed school year start

COUNTY — Just when local districts thought they had what they needed to proceed for schools to open on time, Governor Doug Ducey announced an executive order that pushes the start of school to Aug. 17.

“I can’t say I wasn’t expecting the delay,” said Superintendent for Fort Huachuca Accommodation Schools Mark Goodman. “(But) we were hoping to start on time if safe to do.”

The order does not indicate if those missed days will have to be made up but the Arizona Department of Education has until Aug. 31 to submit their decision on the matter to the governor. Schools may start at their original date with a completely virtual structure. The order only postpones in-person instruction.

Each district will create their own plans for returning and submit them to the state but all agree the extra time allows to better equip the schools and staff for a safe return. Their concern is whether or not they will have to shift their calendars to make up days to reach the 180 day requirement.

Sierra Vista Unified School District

SVUSD administration was planning to return to in-person learning on Aug. 5 and are using community feedback to determine the proper steps for returning. The district issued the following statement, through public information officer Jacob Martinez, in regards to the postponement of in-person instruction.

“We applaud Governor Ducey and Superintendent Hoffman’s leadership as things continue to change as COVID-19 cases surge in Arizona,” the statement said. “We are continuing to develop and refine our plan to return to school in August and will be following the guidance from our leadership closely.

“We are eager to have our students and staff return to classrooms, but want to ensure we do safely and carefully,” the statement concluded.

Palominas

“We are still in our planning process,” said Palominas Elementary School District Superintendent Sherri Rosalik. “Our multidisciplinary team of teachers, support staff, parents, administrators and board representation has met three times to review our survey data and additional feedback from parents and teachers as well as all available guidance.

“We are in the process of having multiple stakeholders review a draft of our plan before we meet again to finalize details and release the plan.

Rosalik concluded the statement by saying the extra time allows them to review their course of action more and be prepared for what’s to come.

“With the governor’s new order delaying the start of school we will need to review our draft at least one more time,” Rosalik said. “ It continues to be a moving target, but we are doing our best to take all input and determine a course of action that will keep our students and teachers safe.”

Tombstone

All options are still on the table, according to superintendent Robert Devere who was anticipating opening on Aug. 3.

“Everybody is wanting to get back to school,” he said. “I don’t expect this to be the last change.”

Devere praised Ducey on Thursday for providing flexibility and funding for hybrid and online education for schools but thought his decision to push the start of the school year was for health reasons over education reasons.

He said they are working on their plan which he hopes to present to the board next week for approval to submit to the state. Now that in-person instruction had been pushed back Devere said this may cause the new student orientations to be pushed back as well but details are still being worked out for how it will look.

Devere wants parents to know they will be in contact and putting out information as they learn and understand more of the changing climate.

Bisbee

Bisbee Unified School District was ahead of the curve. The board voted to delay the start of the school year to mid-August last week during a special meeting. They have a survey out and are collecting responses from parents about how to proceed. They will revisit the topic and discussion at their next meeting.

Fort Huachuca Accommodation Schools

Goodman, updated parents last Thursday, on their current plans and considerations for the start of the school year. Goodman said, in a virtual meeting shared on the Fort Huachuca Schools Facebook page, the plan is for school campuses to open in August with safety protocols in place.

“We have been working for the last four weeks, putting together plans and it seems like everytime we put together a plan something changes,” he said to start the meeting.

Goodman said they are working on plans that center around three different models: online, hybrid and in person. Students who attended classes in person — whether full time or through the hybrid model — will be visually screened by faculty. If after two screens a student is deemed to be showing COVID-19 symptoms the child’s parent will be notified and asked to be picked up.

Goodman asked parents to take their child’s temperature before school and if they are sick with any illness to keep them home so the school can stay as clean and safe as possible. He added they will provide make up work for students if they are absent, no matter how many days they miss, and there will be no awards or recognition for attendance will be given this academic year.

Parents who wish to have their child participate in online school or would like more information about the possible online should reach out to their principal.

“The positive (of pushing the start date back) is it gives us a little more time to plan and more time to get supplies we ordered (that were taking a while to get here),” Goodman said.

Goodman’s concern about the new order is starting the year without knowing if the missed time will have to be made up. He said they could be well into the first semester before knowing if they will have to change their calendar to accommodate for make up days.

“We want to do what’s safe for our students and our staff,” Goodman said.

Benson

Benson Unified School District was set to start classes on July 23, but that changed with Governor Ducey’s executive order on Monday.

“In Benson, we’re on a modified schedule, where our students start school earlier than most districts,” said BUSD Superintendent Micah Mortensen. “Because Governor Ducey has ordered that school districts across the state will be starting classes on Aug. 17, our students will have to make up 17 calendar days,” he said.

While the order states there is to be no person in classes until the Aug. 17 date, Mortensen is questioning whether students can start classes at their scheduled time through a distance learning model.

“This week, we’re going to unwrap the governor’s executive order and look at it more closely,” Mortensen said. “We’ll be looking at the possibility of going with a distance learning model this week and should have a decision by next week.”