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Face Masks Now Required For Maricopa County Employees

By Ben Giles
Published: Thursday, June 11, 2020 - 8:09am
Updated: Thursday, June 11, 2020 - 8:11am

Employees of Maricopa County are now required to wear masks when they can’t maintain safe physical distances at work.

The directive from health officials came with a confession from Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, county’s health director for disease control.

“Anybody who has seen my interview a few months ago, I did not routinely wear masks in public, and I want everyone to know that I have changed my position on wearing cloth masks,” she said.

Sunenshine said there wasn’t enough data to support wearing them, despite the fact that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended the use of cloth masks since early April.

Sunenshine now says that a well-fitted cloth mask can help not only prevent the wearer from spreading COVID-19 to others, but catching the virus themselves.

Rebecca Sunenshine
Maricopa County
Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine at a press conference on April 8, 2020.

“That is why Maricopa [County] is now requiring all employees to wear a mask anytime they can't maintain 6 feet of distance,” she said.

The announcement comes amid warnings from health experts and the state’s largest hospital system that Arizonans must work to stem the rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

While state officials, particularly Gov. Doug Ducey, have said they expected a surge in cases and attribute the rising figures to more robust testing, health experts and county health officials, including those in Maricopa County, have warned that testing alone can’t explain the spike.

The percentage of those tested who’ve come back positive has also risen, more than double than when Ducey let his stay-at-home order expire on May 15.

Marcy Flanagan, health director for Maricopa County, said the spikes in cases are prompting officials to warn of a need for better behavior from county residents.

“This really does come as a result of seeing our increased positive cases rise, and our hospital numbers rise. So when we see that happen, we know that's going to be partially due to social distancing and things starting to open up,” Flanagan said. “But that's when it's really important that we're vigilant on the personal things that we can each do, and the personal responsibility to help minimize the spread.”

Flanagan was asked if the county should do more than encourage residents to wear masks and practice other social distancing measures, but they have no such authority.

Ducey’s executive orders preempt local governments from placing restrictions on residents beyond the recommendations he’s provided statewide.

→ Is Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey Sending The Wrong Message By Not Wearing A Mask?

Flanagan said state officials are working on their own campaign to raise awareness for mask use.

Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, confirmed the state hopes to launch the campaign — likely a series of public service announcements — next week.

Christ said masks use has always been part of the state’s messaging, and cited a May 21 blog post on the health department’s website concerning cloth masks.

Dr. Cara Christ
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Dr. Cara Christ explains June 4, 2020, why Arizona has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases.

She also addressed concerns that she, like Ducey, hasn’t been seen wearing a mask at public events.

Christ said it’s not necessary to wear one near Ducey because he’s a person she’s frequently in close contact with. As for recent pictures of herself and the governor at recent events with state health staff, Christ said she wasn't wearing one because Ducey served ice cream.

“I do wear a mask when I'm in public and can't physically distance from those that are already close contacts to me,” Christ said. “And so multiple partners have seen me wear masks, I wear them around the office. We do think that that's an important prevention message.”

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