SIERRA VISTA — Masks are no longer required in Sierra Vista, but they are still highly recommended.
On Thursday afternoon, Mayor Rick Mueller suspended the June 26 emergency declaration requiring that people wear face coverings or shields while in public when physical distancing of at least six feet is not possible.
The mayor credited the cooperation of Sierra Vista’s residents for participating in the efforts to drive down the number of cases of COVID-19 from the moment the mask mandate went into effect earlier this summer.
“I applaud Sierra Vista residents for everything they have done to help combat COVID-19 in our community,” Mueller said Thursday. “These efforts have been borne out in the local case numbers, which have declined consistently in recent weeks and months. While we are in a good place right now, we know that can change quickly with this virus. I ask that residents remain vigilant and continue to be kind to one another as we head into the fall and winter months.”
The mayor said he met with each city council member individually and his decision to lift the emergency mandate was met with “consensus.”
Regardless, city officials still encourage people to wear masks so that the downward trend in COVID-19 cases continues.
Residents are still highly encouraged to wear face coverings while out in public to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and should be aware that face coverings may still be required in certain government facilities or inside businesses, city officials said.
Mueller stressed on Friday that while the order is suspended, it has not been rescinded, which means it may be enacted again if the need arises.
Besides talking with fellow council members about the issue, Mueller regularly consults with medical professionals in the area, as well as officials at Canyon Vista Medical Center. Hospital spokeswoman Valerie Weller said the mayor had spoken with Canyon Vista Chief Executive Officer Bob Gomes concerning the mask issue.
Weller said the hospital also recommends wearing face coverings whenever social distancing isn’t possible.
“We still require them inside the hospital,” Weller said. “Visitors to the hospital must wear them and our employees wear them.”
Despite Sierra Vista’s move, soldiers at Fort Huachuca must still don their face masks even when social distancing is feasible. According to the installation’s Facebook page, soldiers must still follow General Order #4, which remains in effect both off and on post.
It requires “all soldiers to wear masks inside all public buildings off the installation regardless of the ability to maintain six feet of social distance.”
Masks are also staying put in Bisbee and Douglas for the time being, officials said Friday.
Douglas Mayor Donald Huish said there is still concern among residents there about the pandemic even though the number of cases are also on the downswing. Huish said his city’s mandate requires masks anytime social distancing cannot be practiced. Like Mueller, Huish lauded his residents and their attitude toward the effort.
“Down here people have been very cooperative,” Huish said. “They saw the need (to do this).”
The mayor mentioned the proximity to Mexico as a concern because citizens from both Douglas and Agua Prieta are crossing the border regularly because of familial connections, work and school. Huish also said Douglas’ COVID-19 numbers had been “skewed” because the inmates at the prison are counted as part of the municipality.
Huish said he too routinely speaks with officials at Copper Queen Community Hospital Douglas Rural Health Clinic and the Chiricahua Community Health Center in Douglas.
“They are telling us what they’re seeing,” he said.
Ditto for Bisbee Mayor David Smith, who also consults regularly with Copper Queen and Chiricahua Community Health Center officials there.
While Smith said the cases in his city also are dropping, Bisbee is maintaining its mask mandate — they must be worn when social distancing isn’t possible — because of all the visitors who flock to the city from other parts of the state, especially on weekends.
“Bisbee is a totally different community from Sierra Vista,” Smith said. “Knock on wood, our numbers are still down, but we have people coming in from other communities where COVID is still a concern.”
While Smith acknowledged that masks are not needed outdoors when there is social distancing, he also said it can be challenging in Old Bisbee along Main Street where shops and cafes are located and where the sidewalks are narrow. Most of the businesses along Main Street require masks anyway, Smith said.
“If someone can’t wear a mask inside a shop for health reasons, the retailers have the option of letting them remove the mask,” Smith said. “But they also have the option of asking them to leave.”
Mueller meanwhile, said he fielded several questions from the public on Friday after his decision was issued the day prior. He asked if the Herald/Review could publish the new order that accompanied his suspension of the mask mandate.
In part it states:
“The following guidelines are recommended to all persons located within the City of Sierra Vista:
SECTION 1: Face Coverings and use of Shields in Public:
A. While in the City of Sierra Vista, every person is strongly encouraged to follow CDC and State of Arizona COVID-19 Guidelines when in public.
B. While in the City of Sierra Vista, every person is strongly encouraged to follow the social distancing and requirements regarding the wearing of face coverings issued by respective Commercial Establishments, Government Facilities, Schools, Institutions of Higher Learning, Child Care Centers, Not for Profit Organizations and Houses of Worship.
SECTION 2: Duration.
This Suspension Order shall remain in effect until the earlier of the rescission of the City of Sierra Vista Emergency Declaration dated June 26, 2020 or the rescission of Executive Order 2020-40 by the Governor of the State of Arizona.”