Thao Tiedt, president of the Green Valley Council, rebuked the Town of Sahuarita on Thursday over its decision to disregard Pima County's mask requirements.
In her weekly emailed message to members, Tiedt wrote, "Seems as though Sahuarita doesn't value you as a person but would still like your money."
She said Sahuarita's decision leaves Green Valley residents with options to stay home or avoid businesses and restaurants in the bordering town. Tiedt encouraged residents to spend money in Green Valley, where they "have some respect for the vulnerability of our older people."
Sahuarita Mayor Tom Murphy said Tiedt's statements mischaracterized him and Sahuarita businesses as not caring about people.
"I was surprised, hurt – mainly the judgment on me – but disappointed in the judgment on our businesses," Murphy said Friday. "And casting evaluations on their respect, another pretty pointed word, on how they lack respect for customers, and I didn't think that was appropriate."
Tiedt told the Green Valley News that she isn't calling for a boycott of the town, and residents should patronize Sahuarita businesses that are following county guidelines.
"If you go to a store in Sahuarita and they say you can't enter without a mask, wonderful," she said. "Those people deserve your business."
Tiedt sees the town's decision not to comply — which rested with Murphy — as a case of flexing its political muscle.
"In the sense that they feel they have certain rights under the way Arizona is structured, that Pima County can't make a rule for them," she said. "I think there's a lot of that involved and that's what they're hanging their hat on, anyway. Although, it is a countywide Health Department, and this is a Health Department rule. But that's for the courts and not me to decide."
Murphy said not accepting the county's mask mandate highlights a concern about the town's sovereignty.
"That's what I used, state statute," he said. "Obviously, the county doesn't agree with me 100 percent. But I have tried to manage it for our community the best that I thought. I wouldn't call it muscle or any of that. I think I'd use the words: Protect our community as an incorporated town. That would be accurate."
Pima County said the public mask requirement, approved June 19, covers incorporated jurisdictions and that they would enforce the mandate.
Meanwhile, Tiedt said Sahuarita's average age of 35 puts residents in the spotlight since that age group is seeing the sharpest increases in coronavirus cases.
The Arizona Department of Health Services reported 32,251 cases for 20- to 44-year-olds statewide as of Friday. They also reported 3,120 cases for the same age group in Pima County. The age group accounts for nearly as many new COVID-19 cases as all four other age groups combined.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 79 percent of Green Valley residents are 65 or older. Statewide, the 65 and older population accounts for 8,383 COVID-19 cases but 1,147 of the total 1,535 deaths.
Tiedt said the numbers raise alarm bells for her when it comes to Green Valley residents shopping and dining.
"I'm suggesting that for the residents of Green Valley, average age 71, that we shop where we're the safest," she said. "Because our likelihood of dying if we get it is substantially higher."
She said masks could help prevent infected people from spreading COVID-19 but worries Green Valley residents would increase their exposure risks in Sahuarita businesses not complying with county guidelines.
"It shows a real disregard for other human beings' lives," she said.
She said there also appears to be an underlying question to how governments and businesses are addressing COVID-19 precautions overall – how many seriously ill and dead is acceptable to keep the economy going?
She said the debate around requiring masks shouldn't have turned political or become tied to misinformation and discussions of constitutional rights.
Murphy said there is detrimental politicization surrounding masks.
"Some of the emails that I've got basically (say) if you don't mandate a mask, you're a murderer, and I don't agree with that analogy," he said.
However, he acknowledged there is also an opposite side of the debate, which argues mandating masks violates personal freedoms.
Murphy said he takes issue with mandating masks, multiple exception and logistics in enforcing the orders. He also said attention surrounding masks had left other precautions like social distancing and handwashing advisement falling by the wayside.
Tiedt equated making COVID-19 guidelines optional and up to individuals to follow like doing the same amid a tornado or hurricane evacuation.
"There are always people, even in those circumstances, who say, 'Nah, it ain't going to touch me,' or, 'If I'm fated to die, I'm fated to die,' and all those things," she said. "But this is different, and I think it's because our country has become contentious on everything that happens. And that is very unfortunate because we can't act on the common good on anything."
While Murphy disagrees with the county's decision to mandate masks, he said he isn't opposed to masks themselves. However, he would focus on education rather than mandates.
Tiedt doesn't just see contention among Americans as getting in the way. She also sees a lack of shared sacrifice among the population as a roadblock to addressing the pandemic.
"Do we have some kind of duty to our fellow human beings to share the sacrifice," Tiedt asked. "I think so, but then maybe I'm really old-fashioned. I'm close enough to the Greatest Generation to have understood from my parents what that means."