Scottsdale To Repeal Mask Mandate; Maricopa County Rule Remains In Effect
LAUREN GILGER: Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane announced [Sept. 21] the city would be rescinding a mask mandate that had been put in place in mid-June. A mandate to wear masks in most public setting[s] is still in place in Maricopa County, and that can be confusing. Dr. Marjorie Bessel is the chief clinical officer for Banner Health. And she says the county has made the right call in keeping a mandate in place.
MARJORIE BESSEL: So when we have non-congruent messages that are coming from our politicians who are not scientists, it creates potential confusion for individuals that live in our communities. You know, Banner Health is a very large health system. We're here to take care of our communities, and we want everybody to be as healthy as possible. But when we've got non-congruent messages with a mayor making one decision and the county having the better decision about what is important for public health, it can certainly be confusing for individuals out there.
GILGER: Then on [Sept. 22], Honor Health — Scottsdale's largest employer — as well as the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce issued statements criticizing the rollback of the mandate. The Scottsdale City Council voted on a motion to extend the mandate, and the vote landed 4 to 3 against the extension. Mayor Lane explained his decision by saying wearing a mask is a matter of personal responsibility. Joining us now to discuss Scottsdale's mask mandate is Wayne Schutsky, managing editor of the Scottsdale Progress. Good morning, Wayne.
WAYNE SCHUTSKY: Good morning.
GILGER: So Mayor Lane said this is a matter of personal responsibility, but there's still this mandate from the county. Why is he rescinding this now?
SCHUTSKY: What the mayor told me when I spoke with him is that infection numbers are much lower now than they were back when he put the mandate originally in place — back when we saw that large spike over the summer and that hospitals are no longer being overwhelmed as they were. Additionally, he said that some of the main drivers of that spike, things like bars and clubs that were kinda out of control at that point in time, the state has since put regulations in place, either closing those establishments or making them sign statements that they'll abide by safety regulations if they do reopen.
GILGER: Yeah, yeah. So as we mentioned Honor Health isn't just any business — this is that the leading employer in the region in Scottsdale. This is a a big deal that they're saying this. What did they have to say about why they're against this rescinding of this mask mandate?
SCHUTSKY: So they, they said that they understood that folks want a sort of return to normal, but basically that now is not the time. That while numbers are lower than during the surge, the community needs to remain vigilant to keep numbers looking that way. And that rolling back face mask mandates could basically reverse those trends.
GILGER: Yeah, yeah. Does it matter, though in reality, because the county still has a mask mandate? If the city doesn't have one, the county overrides that. I mean ... are you starting to see this play out in Scottsdale? Are you seeing fewer people wear the masks because of this?
SCHUTSKY: I think it's a little too soon to tell whether it's going to result in people actually not wearing masks. I think, as you said, the county mask mandate is still in effect in Scottsdale and all other county land and cities in the county. So there still is a mask mandate in effect. I think as the speaker you had on previously mentioned, there is a risk of having some confusion with folks. So people might see the headline that mask mandate is gone in Scottsdale and think it's not here anymore. And so with that confusion, that could lead to people unintentionally violating the existing mandate from the county.
GILGER: Yeah. What did the mask mandate, when it was in effect, allow for? Like, did it allow for enforcement by Scottsdale police, for example?
SCHUTSKY: It did. It treated it as a misdemeanor and there was a, you know, so that could carry a fine of a couple thousand dollars actually. And that's where it different from the county mandate, which has a fine of about $50. But it did focus on education first. It stipulated that within Lane's order. So I actually found out that within the first month that the mandate was in place, there was actually only one citation given out to an individual for noncompliance. So whether it was actually being used to punish folks who were not wearing masks — this is, I guess, a matter of debate.
GILGER: Fair enough. So when you cover the Scottsdale political scene, is this in your, in your opinion about politics? I mean, was this just a move to make a statement since in reality the county mandate is still in effect?
SCHUTSKY: There are definitely some political forces at play. I know I've spoken with several of the folks running for city council, running for mayor, and there is kind of a split there on whether we should do this. And I know that while the chamber came out against removing the mandate, I have heard from some small business folks that operate businesses downtown that are hurting just because of the slow business caused by the pandemic, that they are actually opposed to the mandate. So I know that there are some folks out there who are in agreement with Lane's decision, though most in the health community are not.
GILGER: All right. That is Wayne Schutsky, managing editor of the Scottsdale Progress, joining us this morning. Wayne, thank you so much.
SCHUTSKY: Thank you for having me.