SHOW LOW — During a Show Low City Council Special Meeting on Monday, the council voted not to issue a mandate regarding the wearing of masks in public. Instead, the city will uphold the Governor’s existing orders. An emergency proclamation was issued on Wednesday, July 1 addressing the ever-changing and confusing issue of when, where and whether Arizona residents are required to wear face masks or coverings in public.
“We’re headed in the the wrong direction as a state and COVID-19 is a global pandemic, not just an Arizona or White Mountain pandemic,” explained Show Low Mayor and Dist. IV Navajo County Supervisor, Daryl Seymore, in his opening comments.
The Mayor was followed by City Attorney Morgan Brown who explained more about what led up to the Special Meeting. “I think there’s been a lot of misconception about masks,” said Brown. “People think that, if the City doesn’t require face masks to be worn, then businesses don’t have to require employees to wear them,” added Brown. “But, businesses should — and are required to follow guidelines from previous Executive Orders issued by the Governor.”
Brown and Seymore, through the course of the meeting, referred to, (although not by name), Gov. Ducey’s “Return Stronger” initiative that became a common theme in each new Executive Order. At the bottom of the Orders, there are specific guidelines for different industries that build on actions the state has already taken to slow the spread of the virus and protect citizens of Arizona.
Guidelines included in previous Orders already address the need for Arizona residents to wear masks in public when physical distancing is not possible, as well as social distancing, hand-washing, avoiding large crowds, etc., Brown and Seymore explained.
During discussion among the councilors, Seymore again referred to the COVID-19 guidelines contained in Executive Orders as well as the guidelines set forth by the Arizona Department of Health Services (AzDHS) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The Governor’s website and each Executive Order refer to AzDHS repeatedly.
AzDHS and the CDC have been providing specific guidelines for restaurants, bars and establishments that provide dine-in service as well as other types of businesses such as salons, cosmetologists, spas, gyms, etc. (Some of the most recent guidelines are found at the following website: https://www.azdhs.gov/documents/preparedness/epidemiology-disease-control/infectious-disease-epidemiology/novel-coronavirus-community. Also see https://azgovernor.gov/executive-orders.)
Morgan also pointed out that the city has been working closely with Navajo County Public Health Services District who provide information, tracking, contact tracing and maintain the COVID-19 information dashboard on their website.
“The government has already mandated masks and guidelines,” said Councilor Brandt Clark during the discussion of whether to issue a separate city mask-wearing mandate. “I don’t like creating redundancy – bureaucracy in government. I think we need to educate and support our residents and businesses.”
Vice Mayor Mike Allsop pointed out that, “We as a city are between a rock and a hard spot with the Navajo Nation to the north and the White Mountain Apache Tribe to the south,” referring to the high rate of infection and cases per capita on the reservations.
“And on top of it, everybody wants to come up here in the summer and cool off,” added Allsop. “With the influx of people coming up here, we’re trying to protect everybody the best we can.”
Councilor John Leech Jr. was not in favor of mandating masks for citizens but acknowledged the importance of following the Governor’s Orders. “Have we started educating businesses on what they need to do?” he asked. “If a restaurant server brings the food to you with a mask, then takes it off when they walk away, is that okay? Can you clarify that because I don’t know myself. We need to work with the business owners to find out and explain it.”
The special meeting was open to the public and well attended by over two dozen residents. About eight people in the audience wore masks and two of the seven council members wore masks throughout the meeting.
Almost half of those in attendance spoke during Call to the Public to weigh in on the matter. Some shared personal knowledge or experience with regard to the effectiveness of masks in reducing the spread of coronavirus. Several members of the audience felt the masks were useless and created more harm than good due to improper wearing (i.e. below the nose) of masks.
Sharlea Lewis, owner of Hats Off Barbershop on White Mountain Road was the first to speak during Call to the Public. She wore a mask and took it off only to explain that she has been following the CDC guidelines for salons despite intense backlash from some of her clients.
“It’s been hostile from the beginning,” Lewis explained. “Customers calls and leave me messages or tell me that they will not wear a mask when they come in. Politics needs to be left out of this and it’s a national pandemic, not just Show Low,” she reminded. “This is serious.”
Councilor Brent Hatch echoed the sentiment and shared his personal experience with a recent (serious) health issue. “I’m 76 years old and I went through bypass surgery and have diabetes. I wear a mask because I don’t want to pass anything onto someone else and I want more time with my family and loved ones.”
Show Low residents Rose Weaver and Jayme Coffman shared urgent concerns about being “denied healthcare” by a local provider. They explained how people with allergies, existing medical conditions or individuals with special needs or disabilities could have difficulty wearing masks for medial or emotional reasons.
As a result of their comments, the Council voted to include consideration for those with such issues in the Emergency Proclamation.
No mandate issued
After 90 minutes of discussion and public comment, the council voted 7 – 0 to issue and Emergency Proclamation that upholds Governor Ducey’s existing Executive Orders.
“We have made a decision to follow the Governor’s Orders; we are not going to dictate beyond that,” said Seymore “Right now, if we cannot maintain social distancing, we need to wear a masks and there are certain types of businesses that need employees to wear masks if they can’t social distance. If you are in the food industry for example, there are specific safety guidelines you have to do.”
He also stated,” This has been the single most attended topic of discussion, bar none, that I’ve dealt with in my 16 years of service on the council.”
“This is a global pandemic,” he added. “It’s happening throughout the world; not just in Arizona.”
Education and accountability
A theme mentioned throughout the council’s discussion was personal accountability. “I would hope that everyone is willing to think of others and not just themselves,” urged Seymore. “It’s not about being mandated; it’s about being responsible. The number one prevention of COVID-19 is staying home. The number two prevention is social distancing.”
“My recommendation is that we go forward making us responsible for ourselves, educating our citizens and helping businesses understand the guidelines they are to follow,” added Seymore.
The council agreed to work with Show Low TV to develop an educational video about the existing Orders and guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In addition, the council and city staff will do more outreach to businesses and residents to see what their needs are and how they can help them remain safe. The City’s social media page and website will be other mediums to share information and encourage compliance through communication.
“We need to understand that COVID-19 is not going away any time soon,” said Seymore. “We need to take precautions. Just like a rushing river — do you jump in without thought or do you stop and grab the flotation device before you jump in?”