Safford Council encourages, does not mandate use of face coverings

David Bell Photo/Gila Valley Central. Diane Junion, center, was honored at Monday's Safford City Council meeting for her more than 10 years of service on the city's Planning and Zoning Commission. Junion recently announced her retirement from the commission. Presenting her with a plaque of appreciation is, from left, Vice Mayor Richard Ortega and Mayor Jason Kouts.

SAFFORD — The Safford City Council agreed with the Graham County Health Department that residents should wear face coverings when out in public, but stopped short of mandating mask use.

After a presentation by Graham County Health Department Director Brian Douglas, the council agreed to follow the Health Department’s recommendation to “strongly encourage” the use of a face covering.

“My original statement was to not leave your safety in the hands of the mayor, the councilmen, the governor; you should be doing your own safety and not leaving it up to me,” Mayor Jason Kouts said. “I’m . . . seeking the advice of our counsel, which I am using the Graham County Health Department because they have all the facts and all the statistics. I don’t have those.”

A recent executive order from Gov. Doug Ducey gave cities, towns and counties the option to mandate face coverings when out in public to slow the spread of COVID-19. Since then, 20 cities and towns — including Phoenix and Flagstaff — and Yuma and Santa Cruz counties have mandated the use of face coverings in public.

The Graham County Health Department did not suggest the county and local municipalities adopt a mask requirement, instead calling on the public to “take extra precautions.”

“Since Arizona lifted its stay-at-home order on May 15, 2020, COVID-19 cases have increased considerably reaching record highs. Because of this, Graham County Health Department strongly recommends wearing a face covering when in public and unable to social distance both outside and indoors. We are asking our residents to take extra precautions and stay home as much as possible,” Health Department officials wrote in a press release.

The governor’s executive order also requires businesses to have a written physical distancing and sanitation plan. City staff told the council it is making the Health Department template available for Safford businesses to use and file.