Gov. Doug Ducey on Thursday lifted the COVID-19 restrictions that have been in place for businesses and it only took 30 minutes for customers to arrive at Canoa Ranch Golf Club’s Grill on the Green expecting to come in without a mask.
Ducey’s Executive Order lets businesses determine their own COVID-19 policies — they can still refuse service to those who do not follow their rules.
Grill on the Green is still requiring masks of both their employees and customers, General Manager Mike Cochran said.
“We still have staff who have not had their vaccinations yet and we need to protect our employee base. I also can't help but think some of the seniors who come in have not gotten their vaccines yet," he said.
Cochran doesn’t see a problem with the direction from the governor, though the changes caused immediate confusion with customers at Grill on the Green and their other restaurant, Abrego Grill at Torres Blancas.
“Immediately upon that announcement we had people walking in without masks, they had their masks in hand but not on,” he said.
They are working on new signage to help explain that their policies remain in place and that the new order does not mean masks are no longer required at every business.
“I think it gives businesses who are socially responsible the power to decide,” Cochran said. ”I don't think there’s any harm in doing what the governor did. I think the national brands like Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes... I can't see them changing their corporate stance on masks and social distancing.”
Though they aren’t changing things in the restaurants, Cochran said they are beginning to contact people about banquets, and are also contacting organizers about golf tournaments, which will still have restrictions.
Greg Hansen owns three restaurants in the area: Twist & Shout 50's Diner in Sahuarita, the 19th Hole Bar and Grille in Green Valley and the Longhorn Grill and Saloon in Amado. He said it’s about time businesses had the power to determine their policies.
“I think it's been a long time coming and it should have been this way since the beginning,” Hansen said. “I've not heard anything, no complaints. I think a lot of guests are glad to come out and for those that choose not to mask we’re happy to accommodate them as well as those who want to continue to wear masks.”
He has already implemented changes to the three locations. Now guests and employees have the choice to wear a mask or not.
“I’d like to say we’re going back to as normal as we can,” he said. “It’s a personal choice to wear a mask for employees and guests. We have some who are not and some who are.”
The restaurants will now be able to operate at full capacity. His businesses will also continue offering dine-out options and outdoor seating where available.
“We’re committed to having a safe, sanitary environment and we will continue to do that,” he said.
A number of grocery stores in Sahuarita and Green Valley will keep their current policies in place. Among them is Safeway, whose spokeswoman Nancy Keane said health and safety is still their top priority.
“We know that masks in combination with social distancing and proper cleaning and sanitization can work to prevent the spread of the virus. Our stores and facilities in Arizona will continue to require masks for associates, vendors and customers," she said in an emailed statement.
Fry’s Food Stores will also continue requiring masks of employees and customers, according to reports.
Town of Sahuarita
Along with rescinding previous requirements for businesses, Ducey took away the power of counties, cities and towns to issue or enforce their own mandates, including requiring masks. They may, however, require masks on public property, including parks.
The Town of Sahuarita is among the few municipalities in the state not to implement a mask mandate, so little will change.
“We have continually followed the direction of the governor,” Assistant Town Manager Teri Bankhead said Friday. “Whatever orders have been put out, we’ve followed those guidelines and within our buildings we have not mandated masks.”
She said it’s too soon to say whether they will adjust any of their events.
Bankhead said individual businesses will determine their own policies regarding masks or other measures.
“We had not mandated masks in public and the lifting of these restrictions allows a business proprietor to do whatever they feel is most appropriate,” she said. “The town won't intercede on a business owner. The underlying, or perhaps overlying, message locally is businesses don't have to have a mask mandate, the county can't and there’s not one at the state level.”
Pima County and the City of Tucson established mask mandates when Ducey gave municipalities the power to make their own rules early in the pandemic.
Tucson Mayor Regina Romero disagreed with Thursday's Executive Order and said Tucson continues to require masks and has legal standing to do so.
Pima County also forcefully decried the Executive Order.
“The governor appears to have declared the pandemic over while still retaining his emergency powers to prevent local jurisdictions from protecting the public from a deadly infectious disease,” Pima County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bronson said in a press release. “We’ve seen this before. He imposed a shutdown order too late in 2020, then lifted it too early and we had the summer spike in infections. He’s making the same mistake and the tragedy of that is more people will needlessly get sick and may die by his reckless action.”
County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said the pandemic is not over and they will continue mitigation policies where they can — in their buildings and facilities.
“Masks will still be required in our buildings and properties, including among staff, and occupancy and physical distancing will still be enforced,” Huckelberry said. “Restrictions will ease in county parks, facilities, buildings and properties when our health leaders and the science says it’s safe to do so. We’re not going to let politics drive our decision making when it comes to protecting public health.”
Pima County Supervisor Steve Christy said he doesn't believe Tucson has a leg to stand on by keeping a mask mandate and applauded Ducey's order.
"I’m certain just from the feelings I’ve been getting from talking to businesses over the last weeks and months that this is going to be a relief," he said. "There may be businesses not comfortable relieving the mandate of having customers and employees wearing masks, and that’s their choice. I think that the real essence of this whole thing is that it does give businesses the flexibility to make choices like this.
Christy said he hasn't heard too much about masks from constituents in Green Valley.
"The biggest preoccupation that I’ve been hearing from the people of Green Valley is the ease and availability of vaccines," he said.
In a Friday press meeting, county Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen said she has concerns on a public health level about the latest order, especially given the presence of virus variants in the county.
“The recommendations from the governor come at unfortunate timing. We know the UK variant was reported at the UA, we are aware it’s in the county,” she said. “The only way to get ahead of that at this point is to accelerate immunizations and hopefully people will consider and implement known mitigation factors.”
The county released a public health advisory Friday strongly encouraging businesses to keep their mitigation in place.
On Friday, Arizona Department of Health Services Director Cara Christ also spoke about the order. She said the state is still encouraging mask wearing and safety precautions, but now the responsibility lies on the individual and each individual should assess their own risk.