Mon, Aug. 10

Commentary: Face masks essential in minimizing risk of COVID-19

Mayor Tim Elinski

Mayor Tim Elinski

On June 18, Governor Doug Ducey allowed for local regulation of face mask requirements. Like many other cities in Arizona, we moved quickly to gather information for council consideration, including a draft emergency policy.

We posted notice for a public meeting and allowed citizens to attend in person, write comments, or attend virtually. After over two hours of hearings, the council voted and the vote to approve the Emergency Policy failed 4-3.

Following that vote, I exercised my separate legal authority to issue a proclamation that is similar to the policy that was voted down.

This was not an easy decision for me, but I swore an oath to protect the citizens of our community that I hold sacred, and given the severity of the situation, I felt swift action was required.

This decision will distance me from many citizens, as well as some of my colleagues on council, but I’m also confident that with time we will rebuild these relationships, as much important work lies ahead for us.

Cottonwood now joins 17 other Arizona cities that, since Wednesday, have implemented mandatory policies.

My decision was based on the data that I have reviewed and growing concern over the significant spike in positive cases and hospitalizations all around our state (27,000-plus new cases this month).

This virus remains undetected in many people and it is both highly transmissible and sometimes lethal - especially among the elderly and medically fragile among us - which is of great concern to me as we open our economy back up and the majority of our visitors are from areas with higher infection rates.

Our hospitals are not prepared for significant numbers of new patients: we simply don’t have the bed capacity. We have done a tremendous job together keeping our numbers low in the Verde Valley, and I don’t want us to spoil our hard work.

The governor’s executive order already requires masks to be worn inside businesses. My proclamation builds on that order and requires the public to wear a face mask if they are in public and cannot remain physically distanced by the recommended six feet from those they might unknowingly infect.

There are clear exceptions for folks who have health conditions that would make it difficult to breathe in a mask, as well as for religious practice, and any other case where wearing a mask isn’t feasible, like when eating and drinking at restaurants.

This proclamation is in effect for 30 days. And importantly, education, not heavy-handed enforcement, will be the key to compliance and success in keeping the latest wave of this disease from overwhelming our community, and I am confident that most of our citizens, as well the visitors who come from out of town will join this effort and wash their hands frequently; stay home when they are not well; physically distance whenever possible - and mask up when they can’t.

I understand that it is for some an inconvenience to wear a face covering. But as I said at the meeting, there are many times we as a nation have been asked to sacrifice some comfort for the betterment of all.

This is such a time. We all need to work together to slow the spread of this deadly disease and buy some more time until treatments and vaccines are available.

Luckily we live in a rural community, where there are many opportunities to enjoy our open space without the need to mask up. A careful reading of my Proclamation will show that it is very common sense and easy to comply with, and that its purpose is to bring us together and look out for one another.

I am pleased to see that many of our businesses have opened or are planning to do so soon, and though many may not be doing as well as they were before, they are able to keep our community employed and on the road to recovery.

The simple act of wearing a mask in public whenever possible can ensure that they remain a safe place for us all to enjoy.

I appreciate your patience as we all work through these times that have put us to the test. I firmly believe, though we disagree and at times appear at polar opposite ends, we will emerge stronger.

Tim Elinski is the mayor of Cottonwood.

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