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Gov. Doug Ducey will allow local governments to impose and enforce mask policies to curb the spread of COVID-19, he said Wednesday — an abrupt reversal after weeks spent assuring Arizonans the state was doing enough to control the pandemic. 

The Republican governor also shared plans to have the Arizona National Guard assist with contact tracing for confirmed COVID-19 cases, as well as new safety rules for private businesses. 

"COVID-19 is widespread in the state of Arizona," Ducey said at an afternoon briefing, after removing the cloth mask he newly sported and sanitizing his hands. "Arizonans must act responsibly to protect one another." 

The governor had long insisted the state was on the right track with its phased reopening, attributing upticks in case numbers to expanded testing availability.

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On Wednesday, he acknowledged a troubling shift in the state's COVID-19 landscape, saying he was "adjusting" policy because "what we're seeing today concerns us."

Tuesday set a record for COVID-19 cases with 2,392 reported, and with 85% of inpatient beds and 83% of intensive care beds in use for COVID-19 and other patients.

Positive results as a percentage of total tests performed also have been climbing, indicating higher numbers aren't solely a consequence of widespread testing.

"I said two weeks ago that there was not a trend here," Ducey said, pointing to a graph of confirmed COVID-19 cases over time. "Looking at ... the last two weeks of data, there is a trend. And the trend is headed in the wrong direction."

City leaders grateful to get 'control back'

Ducey stopped short of announcing a statewide mask mandate, despite increasing pressure from medical professionals. But his decision to give local governments the authority to design and enforce face-covering policies was a major departure nonetheless.

His past executive orders prevented cities from imposing any coronavirus-related measures that went beyond the state's policies — earning the governor criticism from municipal and health officials alike.

On Wednesday, Ducey acknowledged COVID-19 was hitting certain parts of the state harder than others, saying his decision "allows local leaders to tailor policies" and enforcement mechanisms. 

Cities will, however, have to give violators a chance to comply before penalizing them, according to a new executive order.

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Gov. Doug Ducey on June 17, 2020, announces his plan for having Arizonans wear masks and giving local governments the authority to require them. Arizona Republic

The governor's announcement came shortly after the mayors of Tucson, Tolleson and Flagstaff shared plans to implement their own face-covering mandates whether they had Ducey's permission or not.

Tucson Mayor Regina Romero told The Arizona Republic she was "in a hurry" to do so due to the sharp increases in confirmed cases and deaths observed in Pima County. She said she’d spent the better part of two weeks asking the Governor’s Office to give more control to local leaders, and was "happy that the governor said OK."

She said the Tucson mandate would give parents discretion to decide on masks for children 5 and younger. She said she also wants to provide flexibility to people who can't wear masks due to health reasons.

"It’s not like we’re going to be ticketing people. We don’t want that," Romero said. "We just want people … to protect themselves and the people around them. Simple as that."

Tolleson Mayor Anna Tovar also applauded Ducey for giving local leaders "control back."

She said she planned to call an emergency City Council meeting to develop a mandate and determine whether and how to enforce it. Punitive measures aren’t usually successful, she said — she hopes the Tolleson mandate will serve as an educational tool.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said via Twitter that the City Council would vote on whether "to mandate face masks for residents going to essential businesses and in public spaces" at its next meeting. 

Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino also said he would call together City Council members to see how best to implement a mask measure.

And Mesa Mayor John Giles said he would issue a proclamation requiring masks in his city, tweeting that "everyone must pitch in."

“We would like to, as much as possible, coordinate with our regional neighbors so as to lessen any confusion on the part of the public,” he told The Republic.

“There's a lot of folks who live in Mesa and work in Scottsdale and do business in Tempe. To the extent possible, over the weekend our city attorneys are going to be collaborating on how we can take a regional approach to some of this.” 

Ducey: Contact tracing, enforcement efforts to expand

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Gov. Doug Ducey on June 17, 2020, lays out the current plan of action in the state to help battle the spread of the new coronavirus. Arizona Republic

Ducey also responded to calls for expanded contact tracing on Wednesday, announcing he would lean on 300 members of the National Guard for help.

"This is to contain the spread, to provide the ability to rapidly trace contacts of cases and test those exposed to identify new cases," he said, urging Arizonans contacted as part of those efforts to "please answer the call." 

U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz, had pressed for such a move shortly before Ducey's briefing, saying National Guard members "know how to handle a crisis" and "can get to work right away."

"This is the most acute crisis our state has ever faced," he said. "If there was ever a moment for an all-hands-on-deck approach, it’s now."

The governor, with assistance from the state Department of Health Services, also released expanded rules for businesses that have reopened in recent weeks, making measures that were formerly recommendations mandatory.

The state previously encouraged social distancing among diners eating in restaurants, for instance. Now, eateries and bars must ensure patrons are 6 feet apart and limit parties to no more than 10 people. And they must clearly mark tables and chairs that are not in use.

Officials also are requiring masks for all servers, hosts and employees who interact with customers — even if a restaurant's local government doesn't impose a mask mandate. 

Restaurants offering dine-in service must implement symptom screenings for employees, such as temperature checks, as well.

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Gov. Doug Ducey on June 17, 2020, explains how important it is for Arizona businesses to follow COVID-19 guidelines and that they need to do better. Arizona Republic

"By and large, Arizona businesses have been terrific, but there have been … some bad actors," Ducey said. "I've chosen to focus on the good actors, trying to promote responsible decisions and good business management. But we need to address the folks that are not in line." 

He said officials would "give establishments the opportunity to be educated on what is proper guidance," but "serious changes" were needed and would be enforced.

"We have successfully slowed the spread of COVID-19 in the past," Ducey said. "We're going to successfully slow COVID-19 again."

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Republic reporters Joshua Bowling, Rafael Carranza, Ronald J. Hansen, Andrew Oxford and Alison Steinbach contributed to this article.

Reach the reporter at maria.polletta@arizonarepublic.com or 602-653-6807. Follow her on Twitter @mpolletta.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to azcentral.com today.

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