Yuma County and Somerton have joined San Luis in mandating the use of masks, while Wellton issued a proclamation “recommending” the use of masks.

However, Sheriff Leon Wilmot is refusing to enforce the mandate, citing a lack of resources.

The Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma ordered service members to only enter establishments that require face masks for both the patrons and employees. If someone inside the establishment is not wearing a face mask, service members must leave.

In the meantime, the Yuma City Council will meet on Friday to determine whether Yuma residents must wear a face covering in public whenever social distancing cannot be maintained under the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

San Luis was the first to act, with Mayor Gerardo Sanchez signing a proclamation Wednesday evening requiring face coverings in public spaces. The mandate went into effect immediately.

Also Wednesday evening, Chairman Tony Reyes of Yuma County Board of Supervisors asked that a mask mandate be drafted.

First thing Thursday morning, Somerton Mayor Gerardo “Jerry” Anaya signed a proclamation requiring face coverings in public. Wellton Mayor Cecilia McCullough signed the proclamation Thursday afternoon.

These actions came after Gov. Ducey gave counties, cities and towns permission to adopt their own policies on the use of face coverings to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

On Thursday, Reyes signed the proclamation, requiring the use of masks effective at 1 p.m. The proclamation notes that Yuma County continues to experience a significant increase in positive cases of COVID-19 and deaths related to the virus.

The municipal and county proclamations are similar, requiring everyone to wear face coverings in public places, whether indoors or outdoors, including the post office, stores, restaurants, parks, etc.

The county requires persons to wear face coverings when providing or using the services of any taxi, car, livery, ride-sharing, or similar service or any means of public transportation, or while within an enclosed or semi-enclosed transit stop or waiting area.

The county requires all businesses, offices, shops and manufacturers to post conspicuous signs at all entrances to their establishments. If a customer refuses to wear a mask or cloth face covering for nonmedical reasons, a business may decline entry to the individual.

Face coverings are not required at home or when alone in a vehicle or in the vehicle only with people a person lives with, when eating, when swimming or when exercising outdoors.

All face coverings must cover the person’s nose and mouth and must be fitted to the face. Face coverings with one-way valves (typically a raised plastic cylinder about the size of a quarter on the front or side of the mask) that is designed to facilitate easy exhaling can’t be used.

Children who are 2 years old or younger and people diagnosed with certain medical conditions are precluded from wearing masks. A person who declines to wear a face covering because of a medical condition will not be required to produce documentation verifying the condition.

SHERIFF REFUSES TO ENFORCE MANDATE

The county proclamation indicates that law enforcement and regulatory agencies will focus first on educating and will give people an opportunity to comply. Any person who violates the proclamation after being asked to comply may be found guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor.

However, Sheriff Leon Wilmot issued a statement, making it clear that his department would not be enforcing the mask mandate. He recognized the need to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and agreed that face masks are an important part of that plan, but added: “I was not consulted by the Yuma County Administrator nor the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors regarding the enforceability of this proclamation and so I must inform you that my Office does not have the resources to respond to calls for enforcement action regarding the failure to wear face coverings.”

He noted that every year since he took office, he has petitioned the supervisors for additional deputies to maintain public safety in Yuma County. “As our County grows, so too should the ability of my Office to meet the growing demand for law enforcement services. Unfortunately, those repeated requests for additional manpower have been denied in all but the absolute rarest of circumstances,” Wilmot stated. “Therefore, I will be unable to conduct any enforcement of this proclamation and will not divert manpower from emergency services to conduct face covering enforcement.”

Nevertheless, the sheriff asked citizens to voluntarily comply “with proven measures recommended by our local Health Department experts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and work together to beat this pandemic.”

In conclusion, Wilmot asked those who have complaints about non-compliance to reach out to the board chairman or county administrator directly.

Reyes told the Yuma Sun that he was taken aback by Wilmot’s statement but that he understood his position. “I never contacted him. He has a point. It’s a good point,” he said.

“This proclamation was done in a hurry. We’re in a health crisis that doesn’t lend itself to taking too much time. With the infection rate at its peak, we need to do as much as possible and as quickly as possible. Normally we would consult and get everyone’s opinion, in this particular case, the opinion of law enforcement,” Reyes said.

“On the other side, the fact is that we’re in an emergency situation, something that doesn’t lend itself to a lot of discussion. My feeling is we’re still going through a really difficult time in this process, and something needed to be done fast,” he added.

Reyes said he added the proclamation to the Monday agenda and invited Wilmot to attend the meeting to discuss the issue.

“This is not a set in stone, this proclamation. I need to listen to the sheriff and listen to what the other supervisors have to say. Normally we discuss things a bit more at length. The need for masks, that won’t change, the need is there, but we can finetune it with comments from more people. We can make it better,” Reyes said.

“The more buy-in, the better. It’s not about political affiliation or culture. This is about a health problem. That has to be at the forefront of any discussion. Wearing a mask is a simple request. There is no political agenda, nothing behind it other than the health and safety of the citizens of Yuma County,” he added.

YUMA COUNCIL TO MULL MASK POLICY

The Yuma City Council will hold a special meeting on Friday to determine whether Yuma residents must wear a face covering in public whenever social distancing cannot be maintained under CDC guidelines. The council will discuss the issue at 2 p.m.

“I believe this decision to potentially mandate masks is of monumental importance, and requires the advice and wisdom of the entire City Council,” Mayor Doug Nicholls said. “The City Council encourages all Yuma residents to email their opinion and have their voice heard prior to the meeting.”

Residents wanting to view the meeting in real time may do so on cable television channel 73 or online, by clicking on the Yuma Live Stream 73 video link on the city’s website, or directly by visiting yuma.peg.tv. The City Hall Council Chambers will be closed to the public.

Public comments are encouraged and will be accepted via email at publiccomment@yumaaz.gov until 1 p.m. Friday. A summary of the comments will be provided to the council. Comments should include a name and contact information.

A city press release issued on Thursday noted that since the outbreak of COVID-19, the city has relied on medical expertise and public health guidance in its decision-making with COVID-19. It noted that Yuma County’s incidence of COVID-19 is among the highest in the nation.

“While many individuals and businesses have remained vigilant in taking the precautions suggested by the CDC, there was a recent study published on June 12, 2020, demonstrating that a more widespread use of face coverings provided some effectiveness in preventing transmission of COVID-19,” the press release said.

“The CDC encourages face coverings in public, particularly in areas of significant community-based transmission and if minimum social distancing cannot be achieved. The CDC advises that the use of face coverings in public situations slows the spread of the virus and especially helps asymptomatic and presymptomatic individuals from unknowingly transmitting the virus to others.”

On Wednesday, Nicholls pointed out that the number of COVID-19 cases are up in part due to increased testing. As of Thursday, Yuma County had 3,874 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

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