Both the City of Flagstaff and Coconino County announced significant changes to local mask mandates Tuesday.
After a discussion with the Flagstaff City Council Tuesday night, Flagstaff Mayor Paul Deasy announced he would be ending the city’s mask mandate as of the next day.
Just hours before that, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors had unanimously voted to end the county’s mask mandate, effective June 1.
Both mandates required that members of the public wear masks indoors or if social distancing is not possible outdoors and have been in place since June of last year.
Despite the change, there are still some areas where the City of Flagstaff will continue to require the wearing of masks. Face coverings are still required on public transportation, at the airport and other areas required by federal law.
Likewise, businesses can still require face coverings and social distancing on private property, within the city and in unincorporated areas.
During the meeting, Council also lifted capacity limits on outdoor city-owned sports fields effective May 26. And officials from both the county and city still said they encourage residents who are not vaccinated to wear masks when indoors.
City of Flagstaff
In terms of the City of Flagstaff, Deasy used his authority to end the city’s mask mandate following a discussion with Council. Overall, city council was supportive of the move.
Councilmember Austin Aslan, who had been one of the strongest voices supporting continued restrictions, said he supported the change and that it followed guidance from the Centers for Disease Control.
“I have hitched my wagon to the CDC’s guidelines when it has been inconvenient for me to do so, and I am continuing to hitch my wagon to the CDC guidelines now that they have changed their recommendations,” Aslan told Council.
Councilmember Miranda Sweet said she also supported the change, adding that with changing guidance from the state and CDC, mask mandates have become an increasingly confusing for residents, local business owners and visitors alike.
Still, Councilmember Jim McCarthy said he was hesitant to support the change, pointing out that many people, including those currently younger than 12 years old, are still unable to get vaccinated. But McCarthy said if Council and the mayor wanted to end the mandate, he would not get in the way.
Throughout the discussion, the majority of councilmembers voiced support for ending the mask mandate, although most suggested following the county’s lead and making the change effective on June 1.
Confusion over timing surfaced on the part of certain councilmembers when the discussion ended, and Deasy made the proclamation that the mask mandate would end the next day.
“We just had a discussion and I didn’t hear anyone say they thought it should be done [effective May 26],” McCarthy told Deasy after the proclamation. “The discussion of council is we do this June 1. So you’re going to ignore that recommendation and do it tomorrow instead? Not that a few days would make much difference, but I’m kind of curious that we had that discussion and then you decided to do something different.”
Deasy responded that he still found it valuable to hear Council’s input on the topic. Deasy added that he believed once residents heard the city had set an end date for the mask mandate, they would not be waiting until June 1 to pull off their masks.
“I think we can pull the Band-Aid off,” Deasy said.
Face coverings are still required inside city buildings under Phase 3 of the city’s COVID-19 re-entry plan. Council will host a discussion on additional COVID-19 restrictions at the June 1 meeting.
Among the County Board of Supervisors, discussion of the change was fairly short with all the members present fully in support of the move.
County Manager Steve Peru told the board that the change comes as guidance from the CDC regarding the wearing of masks has also changed in recent weeks.
Coconino County will no longer require vaccinated individuals to wear a mask in county buildings beginning June 1.
“Coconino County has always followed CDC guidance. There’s a lot that goes into formalizing the guidance at that level. Science and experts in the field have provided important guidance throughout the pandemic, and so when the change was recently made regarding mask requirements, I think we will all admit we were a little taken aback by the change in direction so quickly,” Peru said. “But at the same time, as we have always done from the very beginning, we are following CDC guidelines.”
Coconino County Health and Human Services Director Kim Musselman said that despite the change, the county supported residents who might personally decide to continue wearing a mask. Musselman said come the cold and flu season, she, too, might decide to again start wearing a mask more regularly.
In a statement, Musselman also pointed to recent trends in the number of COVID-19 cases as a reason to rescind the mask mandate.
“COVID-19 cases have fallen to the lowest numbers since the beginning of the pandemic, the vaccine is readily available, and our vaccination rates rise daily,” Musselman said.
Still, Peru said while the end of the mask mandate marks a milestone for the county, he cautioned that the county will continue its efforts to address the pandemic and is committed to public health.
Peru said he wanted to reassure the professionals who have been in the fight against COVID19 for over a year that the county was still very much in the game.
“The public health emergency continues and that’s an important piece to say. We’re not saying that the public health declaration is over, were just saying we're [entering a new phase] as a result of guidance and numbers,” Peru said.
The board also discussed entering into Phase 3 of the county’s reentry plan. It appears it will be moving through Phase 3 throughout June.
The county in moving to that stage will begin to reopen buildings to the public, and it will begin the process of transitioning employees back to working in offices.
County buildings could then fully reopen by July 1.
For county employees, the wearing of masks will be optional but encouraged.
Adrian Skabelund can be reached by phone at (928) 556-2261, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @AdrianSkabelund.