Hailey Steenhoek

Days before mandates were imposed on mask wearing in public, Hailey Steenhoek wasn't taking chances with the water aerobics course she teaches at McDowell Mountain Aquatic and Fitness Center in Scottsdale.

The City of Scottsdale now requires the use of masks in most public spaces to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Mayor Jim Lane signed an emergency proclamation last Thursday requiring mask usage in public spaces where social distancing cannot be maintained – including grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants and bars, gyms, shops, special events and public transit.

The proclamation went into effect last Friday and will remain in place through July 20, though it could be repealed sooner – or extended if virus cases continue to surge.

But the rules for masks in Scottsdale could change. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors was scheduled to consider a countywide ban on Friday afternoon – afte the Progress' print deadline – that could supersede all the mandates being considered or imposed by cities within the county.

The Scottsdale mandate does not apply to children under 6, restaurant patrons while eating or those who can’t wear masks due to medical conditions. 

Masks are also not required during religious services, spaced-out outdoor exercise or in establishments with fewer than 10 people where social distancing can be maintained.

The city’s order also carved out exceptions for services like dental work where masks are impractical, public meetings with adequate social distancing and for those complying with a public safety officer’s order.

It also exempts people working in offices or riding in cars “where others are not present.”

The announcement came a day after Gov. Doug Ducey – in an abrupt about-face – agreed on June 17 to give city, town and county officials the power to enact and enforce requirements for people to wear face masks.

Minutes before Ducey’s announcement, Lane told the Progress he would not require mandatory masks, saying “No, I’m not considering it myself right now.”

But hours later and after significant backlash on social media, the city issued a statement that it was now evaluating the legal and enforcement ramifications of implementing a mask mandate.

Other Valley cities also quickly issued or or prepared their own mask mandates.

In neighboring Tempe, Mayor Mark Mitchell’s emergency declaration virtually mirrors Scottsdale’s.

Mesa Mayor John Giles also reached out to Lane on Wednesday in an effort to develop a regional approach to a mask mandate. That appeared unlikely in the short run as Phoenix, Chandler and Gilbert planned their own meetings Friday.

Lane said he wanted to craft a mandate to deal with situations where social distancing cannot be maintained, such as well-publicized over crowding in the city’s Entertainment District.

He also said he has not been in contact with local school districts as of June 18 and indicated that the city would defer to district leadership as to what rules they implement for schools.

Some districts – including Kyrene and Tempe Union – both said last week they would require students and staff to wear masks on campuses and students will have to wear them on school buses.

Mesa Public Schools, on the other hand, is still evaluating what to do in response to that city’s mandate as the district rolled out the first draft of its school-reopening plan.

Scottsdale Unified has not announced any decision on masks, though it also has not yet released a reopening plan.

Scottsdale’s proclamation asks private businesses to be the first line of enforcement “by asking any person failing to comply…to leave their premise.”

“The first line is going to be the proprietor, the owner of the establishment,” Lane said. “They are going to have to make sure that before someone comes into their establishment or when they enter the place that they have to have a mask.”

If a person refuses, they can be charged with a misdemeanor, according to the proclamation.

But punitive action is a last resort.

The city emphasized that enforcement will first focus on education and all individuals will be given a chance to abide by the mandate before enforcement action is taken.

Initially, Lane expressed concern about having police enforce the mandate.

“And again, given the current environment, the Police Department doesn’t want to be seen anymore as a police state than maybe they’re being accused of, fairly or unfairly, now,” Lane said.

Though Lane received criticism online for his initial comments on masks, it took the mayor and city staff only about 24 hours to craft the proclamation following Ducey’s change of heart.

Ducey’s reversal came six days after state Health Director Cara Christ acknowledged there have been “hot spots,’’ places in Arizona where COVID-19 has spread quicker than elsewhere. 

But the governor at that time rejected the possibility of giving local officials the option of imposing their own restrictions, saying he wants a statewide standard to “reduce confusion.’’

On Wednesday, however, Ducey cited those same hot spots as a reason to provide local control.

In the same press conference, the governor also:

Said he was going to provide for more enforcement of existing regulations that businesses are supposed to obey to promote “social distancing’’ among customers and for staff to wear face masks. There have been multiple reports and photos of patrons crowded into bars and restaurants despite a requirement for businesses to have plans to prevent that from happening.

Deployed 300 members of the Arizona National Guard to help with “contact tracing.’’ The idea is to better be able to find people who may have been exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus but did not have symptoms;

Agreed to allocate $10 million for masks and other personal protective equipment for long-term care facilities.

Ducey also separately encouraged what he believes is more responsible behavior, saying that there appears to be a spike in cases spread by people having parties in their homes, including graduation ceremonies. If nothing else, he said, anyone who was at one of those parties who contracts the virus should call everyone else who was there so they can get tested.

In initially shying away from a mask mandate, Lane said, “We have tried really, rather than going an independent way to try to maintain some consistency of application across the state and city boundaries.”

Following Ducey’s press conference, the Progress learned that Giles had been in contact with other East Valley mayors, including Lane, in an attempt to broker a regional mask rule, which would seem to alleviate some of Lane’s concerns.

“Mayor (Lane) agrees that it doesn’t make sense to have a patchwork of different actions across the Valley,” Rachel Smetana, Lane’s chief of staff, told the Progress.

Ducey’s decision also came days after around 3,000 medical professionals signed a letter asking him to issue a statewide mandate requiring anyone age 2 and older to wear a mask. They cited the lack of a vaccine or proven treatment, saying that the disease is just as contagious now as it was when he implemented his stay-at-home directive.

“There is sufficient, clear, scientific evidence that wearing masks is one way to decrease the spread of COVID-19 and thus would reduce both the wave of severely affected patients requiring ICU and ventilator resources as well as unnecessary deaths,’’ they wrote.

Scottsdale resident Susan Hughes, a retired physician, delivered hard copies of the letter to Ducey, Christ and Lane in person.

Hughes, part of a community group that has been sounding the alarm about COVID-19 since the early days of the pandemic in the Valley, said she was glad to see the city taking masks more seriously but wished it had taken action sooner.“We had communications with him before,” Hughes said, referencing conversations in March. “I would’ve liked to see it a lot sooner.”

-Howard Fischer of Capital Media Services contributed to this report.