When deciding if citizens should be required to wear face masks in public to limit the spread of COVID-19, Thatcher Mayor Bob Rivera said Gila Valley communities wanted to “sing the same song” — and they have.

As COVID-19 continues to rise in Arizona, a recent executive order from Governor Doug Ducey gave local governments the flexibility to decide whether they would mandate mask wearing.

In recent meetings, the Pima, Safford and Thatcher town councils have decided to follow the Graham County Health Department in “strongly recommending” that people wear masks in public when they’re unable to keep social distancing.

“We all have to be together on this; this is serious stuff,” Rivera said.

However, all three towns stopped short of requiring people to wear masks in public.

“If you feel that you’re going to be compromising or compromised, please do the due diligence and mask up. If a business requires you to come in masked, let’s respect that,” said Safford Mayor Jason Kouts. “Do not leave your safety in my hands. Do not leave your safety in a councilman’s hands. Do not leave your safety in a governor’s hands.”

Echoing the tune, Pima Vice Mayor Dale Rogers said: “People need to be able to take responsibility.”

Kouts acknowledged that such public health measures have become controversial, with people calling him to argue for and against a mask-wearing mandate.

“It’s either the left or the right, and we’ve just got to try to find a middle ground,” he said. “We’ve got to try to work together as a community.”

“Our county has done a very good job of managing and informing, and I see no reason for us to do anything different from their recommendations,” said Pima Town Manager Sean Lewis.

Lewis and Acting Safford City Manager John Cassella also pointed out the difficulties of enforcing any mandate, particularly in Pima with its small police force.

In a recent statement, the Graham County Health Department re-emphasized the importance of these guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19:

• Wear a face covering in public when unable to social distance by 6 feet.

• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular EPA registered household cleaning spray or wipes.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

• Stay home when you’re sick.

• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

• When shopping, limit the number of people who you take with you. If possible, pick one person from your household to do the shopping.

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