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."