BISBEE — Mayor David Smith told members of the city council Tuesday he was not ready to shutter Bisbee businesses, despite a call from U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and others for all mayors in Arizona to declare a state of emergency.
“I was sort of surprised she asked us to declare a state of emergency ,” he said.
Sinema said the city could delay funds when asking for help from the state or federal governments by not making the declaration. Smith, however, disagreed and told councilmembers Anna Cline, Joan Hansen, Leslie Johns, Bill Higgins, Joni Giacomino and Louis Pawlick, it did not matter if the SOE was declared ahead of time. Requests for assistance can be made when an emergency happens.
Sinema and others have said mayors should close all the bars and restaurants and limit church congregations and public park gatherings, like family picnics, he said.
“I have the authority to declare a SOE, But I don’t want to do it,” he said. “There were several of us (mayors) who did not want to do it.”
With 21 cases in the state and none in Cochise County so far, Smith said he believed businesses could follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the Arizona Department of Health Services and reduce seating in restaurants to meet the six-foot social distancing boundary.
Some are also reducing staff and hours due to the decrease in permitted customer numbers.
“Of the 21 cases in the state, five were from a single family,” he continued. “Ten people have been tested in Cochise County following the CDC requirements for testing, and all were found to be negative.”
He spoke in a conference call with local business owners and said the restaurants and bars were ready to go to takeout or offer limited seating.
Though the city has postponed all board, committee and commission meetings until March 30, city hall and public works are still open for business. The Copper Queen Library was closed because the facility could not meet the social distancing suggestion. The Queen Mine Tour and gift shop were also closed. All city employees are still working doing repairs, maintenance and other tasks, he noted.
Pawlick said he would support the mayor in his decision, but he also asked him to be aware and declare if necessary.
Higgins said the local restaurants were taking safety precautions voluntarily and agreed with leaving them open.
“There are responsible people running the businesses,” he added. “At his point, it may not be necessary to declare a SOE, but if you decide to do it, I will support you.”
He also noted people traveling into Mexico from the Naco and Douglas Ports of Entry are having their temperatures taken as a precaution to keep the virus out of northern Mexico.
Hansen said, “We are a small town and people know each other. We have no cases here, so I think it would be inappropriate to close things down. It’s best to keep people employed.”
Pawlick pointed out the tale of two Italian cities, one which followed the stringent protocols and shut everything down and one that did not.
The city which imposed shelter in place restrictions had fewer cases than the one which did not.
“We don’t want to wait too long to declare an emergency just because Cochise County or Santa Cruz County have no cases,” he cautioned.
Cline told of the recent baseball tournament held in Bisbee and one of the Pima Elementary School teacher tested positive. The school is now testing the students.
“You can be hopeful,” she said. “But, we have kids already exposed from the school employee.”
Graham County reported March 13, 166 students and five staff members were asked to self-quarantine for the time being.
Giacomino suggested, “You shouldn’t wait too long to declare.”
For now, Smith is keeping an eye on the virus’s spread in the state and gets daily updates from Gov. Doug Ducey and the county health department.