The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors adopted on June 19 a requirement for people to wear face coverings in public to stem the spread of coronavirus.

The requirement, approved by a unanimous vote, goes into effect at midnight June 20 and does not have a set expiration date.

It supersedes any lighter requirements made by the county’s municipalities, though those municipalities can adopt stricter regulations.

The county’s order requires face coverings for:

  • People older than 6 years old must wear masks in enclosed public spaces (where 6 feet of distance cannot be maintained)

  • Adults with children 2 to 5 years old must make reasonable effort to make them wear masks inside enclosed public spaces

  • All riders and operators on public transportation must wear a mask

  • Staff working in public spaces (such as restaurants or stores) must wear masks

The order offers categorical exemption for people in their homes and also includes exemptions for:

  • Children under 2 years old

  • Restaurant patrons while they are eating and drinking

  • People walking or exercising outdoors (while maintaining 6 feet of distance)

  • When in a personal vehicle, office or other personal space

To be consistent with Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order June 17 that allowed local jurisdictions to make rules on masks and enforce them, law enforcement is directed to focus first on education before enforcement.

According to the order, people will be given an opportunity to comply before any citation is made. First offense is a warning. Further offenses are subject to a civil penalty of no more than $50.

The adoption came at the request of the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, which reported a record 2,119 new cases June 19.

“The reality of what’s at risk is more lives lost for Maricopa County residents,” Public Health Executive Director Marcy Flanagan said.

Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, the medical director of the disease control division for Public Health, told the supervisors communitywide wearing of cloth masks represents the best chance to stop the spread of coronavirus and not have the county’s hospitals overwhelmed.

The supervisors expressed support for their health experts as they moved toward the action.

“Public health is part of what the command is,” Supervisor Steve Chucri said. “And I chose that word deliberately of that’s what we have when we took an oath of office. There’s nothing easy about this.”

Supervisor Steve Gallardo said it was imperative that the board do something to address the rising cases.

“We’re not trying to be mean,” he said. “We’re doing this for the sake of public health.”

Supervisor Bill Gates said the moment required the supervisors to act.

“This is a significant decision,” Gates said. “This is a once-in-a-century type of situation. For those who would suggest we’re taking lightly or this is something we enjoy or want to do, it is not. I’m only here being supportive of what we’re going to do today because this is an absolute crisis.”

Board Chairman Clint Hickman noted that some cities were choosing to keep masks voluntary.

“I’d love to stay voluntary about this,” he said. “Many times people talk about the overstep of government or it’s a nanny state. My ears ring about that.”

He compared it to debates about mandatory seat belt use laws years ago.

“At this point, everyone understands they’re safety devices, and I don’t know anybody now that makes a political statement of that—and least of all they don’t make that statement when they have kids in their back seat.”