Mayor Cal Sheehy says he won’t extend Lake Havasu City’s mask requirement again without consulting the City Council.
Until now, the mask requirements have been put in place through an emergency declaration from Mayor Cal Sheehy. The proclamation, which requires masks be worn in indoor public settings where social distancing is not possible, was originally made on July 1. Since then it has been extended twice, most recently on Aug. 28, and is set to expire on Oct. 15.
Sheehy said he is hopeful that recent downward trends will allow the proclamation to expire as planned, or possibly even sooner. If those trends do not hold and Sheehy decides the mask requirement should be extended again the City Council would weigh in.
“We definitely would have to engage the community going forward,” Sheehy said. “But the way that trend lines are looking as far as downward trends based on the benchmarks that the Arizona Department of Health Services has put out, it looks like we are heading in the right direction.”
Sheehy said the decision on current emergency proclamation extension had to be made by Aug. 28, prior to data from the Arizona Department of Health Services being released that showed Mohave County had been downgraded from substantial spread to moderate spread - thereby allowing businesses like bars, gyms, movie theaters and water parks to reopen their doors under revised parameters.
Mohave County has continued its downward trend in covid metrics again this week, when ADHS released another update on Thursday. Sheehy said that is another positive sign, but he isn’t ready to get rid of the mask proclamation just yet.
“That is one week after reopening and two days after our children got back to a hybrid of in-person learning as an option,” Sheehy said of the most recent data. “So we just need to continue to monitor the data and look for these downward trends.”
Sheehy credited citizens’ adhering to hand washing, mask, and social distancing recommendations for the current decline in covid numbers.
“The results are now happening, and we are able to see those results,” he said. “That is something that was collectively done by all of our citizens for us to get here. Let’s just finish out this period and we will continue to watch the data and make decisions based on that.”
Sheehy also noted that if the mask proclamation went away today, that wouldn’t be the end of mask requirements in the city. All of the businesses that were allowed to reopen last week, including some bars, restaurants, gyms and movie theaters, all had to fill out an attestation form with the state promising that they would require face masks in their establishments. Some corporations are also requiring masks in all of their stores, so removing the local mask mandate wouldn’t change the policies at those businesses either.
“A local proclamation helps with continuity of expectations for citizens and visitors to understand that when they are in indoor public places that it is best practice to wear a face covering or a mask when we can’t physically distance,” Sheehy said. “If that were to go away it will create additional confusion about when or where a face covering or a mask is required.”
Lake Havasu City’s mask proclamation has become a contentious issue throughout the town and Mayor Cal Sheehy has been in frequent contact with citizens on both sides of the issue.
During the City Council meeting on Tuesday, a total of 17 citizens spoke during the call to the public to raise their objections to the mask order.
More people came to the special council meeting on Thursday to talk about masks during the call to the public.
Last Sunday, prior to the council meeting, many of the people who spoke at the call to the public met to discuss the issue and put out an open invitation on Facebook for anybody to attend. Sheehy went to the meeting to answer questions and provide context so he was already familiar with many of the points brought up during the council meeting.
Beyond that, Sheehy said he has been fielding calls almost hourly for the last 60 days from citizens wishing to provide input on the mask mandate.
“It is definitely an item that evokes passion on both sides - people who are opposed to the proclamation and those that are in support of the proclamation,” he said.
Sheehy said many people are primarily focused on the mask proclamation, but he has similar discussions on many topics during the pandemic and he tries to take everything into account - including the health and wellbeing of citizens, the economy, and the sustainability of the city.
“I weigh everything based on the volume that is coming in, the arguments that are being presented, and of course I do my own research as well on topics to ensure that these efforts are in the best interest of our community,” Sheehy said. “Where my position comes from is until our businesses have the opportunity to reopen, and until they can fully get open and we can get an option for our children to have in-person learning we must continue to do all the mitigation efforts that are available to us and continue to monitor the data that is provided by the Arizona Department of Health Services.”
Support from City Council
City Council members are not allowed to discuss topics during meetings that are not on the agenda so councilmembers were not able to respond to the resident’s concerns at the meeting on Tuesday. But afterwards several councilmembers thanked those who spoke for their input, while also voicing their support for Sheehy’s proclamation.
“Any time a member of the public comes before their elected officials to express their thoughts it is a good thing,” Vice Mayor David Lane said in an email to Today’s News-Herald. “It is imperative the City Council has communication with the public we represent and hear from them. We appreciate them taking the time to come before us and speak their mind. There was no doubt each of those that spoke have the best interest of the community in their heart and believe their ideas are the solution to the issue.”
Councilmember Michele Lin also said in an email she was happy to see the citizens engaging with the council and respects their opinions, but she noted that she has had twice as many people thank the city for the mask mandate. Lin said she personally supports the mask mandate, believing that it helps bring down the covid numbers.
“I am not just a council member, but a private restaurant business owner, a mother, and someone with a congenital heart defect,” Lin said. “I want nothing more than to see covid gone, our city back to normal, my children back in school, my business back to full operation, and the reassurance that my health will not be jeopardized by this virus. However, until science can reassure us that this is able to happen, I will continue to practice the things that keep the community, my family and myself safe, and that includes wearing a mask.”
Lane said he doesn’t believe that the government should require masks. He said he told Sheehy that when the mayor asked for his advice prior to issuing the proclamation, but he added that he supports the mayor’s decision.
“The Mayor made the decision to issue the mandate and I support our Mayor, even when we disagree on an issue,” Lane said. “He was elected by the residents of this City to be the Mayor and make the decisions. He receives emails and phone calls daily on both sides of the issue from residents who are passionate about their position. I know he has the best interest of the residents and their health in mind before he makes any decision.”
Councilmember Donna McCoy also thanked citizens for their input during the meeting, and added councilmembers are receiving lots of feedback on the issue.
“We have heard from hundreds of individuals, both for and against the use of masks,” McCoy wrote in an email. “The masks are not responsible for business closures, we have always said ‘please, if you can, wear a mask’ for the well being of yourself and others. There is no Mask Police. You will not be thrown in jail for either using or refusing to wear a mask. If you feel safer to use one, then yes please do. I know many have a difficult time with the mask, as I do myself, but for now the number of cases have dropped, so I personally will continue to support our Mayor in his endeavor to keep our citizens well.”
Lin said she also supports the mayor’s proclamation and doesn’t think the City Council needs to vote on masks at this time.
“By the time it could be put on the agenda, and brought forth to a meeting we would already be approaching the October extension date,” she said. “It would be a discredit to our Mayor’s decision.”