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Phoenix Passes Face Mask Mandate Amid Arizona Coronavirus Surge

Phoenix has joined several cities across Arizona requiringresidents to wear masks in public spaces as the state contends with an aggressive spike in coronavirus cases.

The City Council voted Friday to implement the mandatory face covering rule, which will go into effect on Saturday at 6 a.m.

Phoenix is the fifth largest city in the U.S., with a population of nearly 1.7 million people in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The decision comes just days after Gov. Doug Ducey granted local governments autonomy to establish their own health and safety measures to fight rising COVID-19 cases. Up until then, Ducey had led the state's response to the pandemic which is now in the midst of a surge.

Although he was among the first governors to enact emergency stay-at-home orders, Arizona was part of a wave of states that lifted those restrictions last month. Since then there has been a surge in the number of coronavirus infections, hospitalizations are up, and more people are dying.

The Phoenix policy applies to all individuals within the city limits, over the age of 5, "whenever they are away from their home or residence and within six feet of another person who is not a member of their family or household."

Additionally, any business whose employees interact with the public must enforce the mandate. Businesses also have the right to refuse service to anyone who doesn't comply with the order.

However, council members included a number of exemptions to the mandate, including people "whose religious beliefs prevent them from wearing a face covering." Also, restaurant patrons who are eating or drinking, anyone participating in a team sport or exercising outside while keeping a six foot distance from non-household members can forego face masks.

City officials said enforcement would focus on "education and information." But

NPR member station, KJZZ reportedPhoenix Police Chief Jeri Wiliams said that puts her officers in a challenging situation.

Williams said: "We're going to hand folks a flyer and pretty much turn around and walk away. In egregious circumstances and in cases if for some reasons it turns into a contact where we have to issue a citation I will have to mandate a supervisor be present to do so."

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Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.