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Mesa, Arizona Mayor On New Face Mask Requirement

NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with John Giles, the Republican mayor of Mesa, Ariz., about his decision to require face masks amid the state’s dramatic rise of COVID-19 cases.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

We want to hear now from an elected official in Arizona, where more than 85% of intensive care and hospital beds are filled now with COVID patients. John Giles is the Republican mayor of Mesa, and he joins me now.

Welcome to the program, sir.

JOHN GILES: Thank you. Pleasure to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The governor’s allowing local governments to require that people wear masks, though he’s not imposing that requirement statewide. You actually made the decision from Mesa a week ago. Can you explain why you did that?

GILES: Sure. Well, as you indicated a moment ago, Arizona is experiencing a surge in cases. We are rolling back a lot of the gains that were hard-fought gains during the stay-at-home order. For public health purposes, it really, in my mind, was a no-brainer. We need to do everything that we can at this point to try to protect our economy, to try to regain our economy.

In Mesa, we’re supposed to be sending our kids back to school in about 40 days. I just can’t see that happening under the current situation. So we’re back in the scenario of flattening the curve. So desperate times call for desperate measures.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Have you had pushback? – because we’ve seen this all over the country where the use of masks have particularly Republicans – let’s be honest – saying that this infringes on their constitutional rights.

GILES: Yes, we have had that pushback from a – I consider a vocal minority. Most folks, I think, see the situation the same that I do, that it’s certainly an inconvenience. It’s – none of us are fans of masks. But the science, the experience of other cities and countries that have – that are ahead of us on this curve – it’s been established that this is really one of the best things we can do to mitigate the spread of the virus.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The governor has said forcing people to wear masks or to stay at home is not his role. And instead, he is appealing to personal responsibility. He’s a fellow Republican. Do you think that’s sufficient?

GILES: Well, I appreciate that he empowered mayors to do this. Clearly, it’s appropriate in an urban setting. On the other hand, there are parts of Arizona that are very rural, and I think the governor thought that a one-size-fits-all approach might not be best in Arizona.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mesa is just 20 miles from Phoenix, where President Trump, without a mask, spoke to several thousand students just last week. And they were also mostly unmasked. He also visited a mask factory. What do you think about the example that he’s setting as the state explodes with cases?

GILES: Well, I was proud of our governor when he was in attendance at that rally – that he and Senator McSally, both strong Republicans, wore masks the entire time. So I think it is an opportunity to model the behavior that we are hoping to see in the folks that we govern.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And do you think President Trump, by not doing so, has confused the public?

GILES: I think it’s a missed opportunity. I think it plays into the hands of those who want to politicize this issue.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Would you say he’s one of those people, though?

GILES: I would say that he’s missed the opportunity to model good behavior on that topic.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Even if you, you know, try and get people to wear masks, really try and control the situation in your city, we do know that all these places are interconnected, right? State borders, city borders are open. People are moving around. There’s only so much individuals can do. Would you say that there needs to be a more unified federal response? – because the numbers that we see in other countries are a fraction of what we’re seeing here in the United States.

GILES: I do think that things are going to get worse before they get better. As governors and mayors and presidents seek to try to act like we can get ahead of this, mandates like mask-wearing are going to become more and more prevalent. So it would not surprise me, as we continue to walk down a horrible path and as things continue to get worse, that you’ll see more national mandates, statewide mandates take place.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think things had to get worse, though?

GILES: You know, that’s a good question for the medical community. Obviously, I think we could have done more. A few months ago, you know, we were wondering if we were overreacting when we were closing some of our city facilities or we were encouraging bars and restaurants to do takeout and delivery only. So I think we need to remember that taking steps which, in the context you’re in, might seem like they’re overreacting – so far, in hindsight, that hasn’t been the case. We have not gotten ahead of this virus, and we need to be aggressive in the way that we approach it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That’s John Giles, mayor of Mesa, Ariz.

Thank you very much.

GILES: Thank you, Lulu.

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