Arizona's Individualism Is Barrier to Mask Rule

    22 July 2020

    For weeks, the coronavirus has been spreading out of control in the southwestern American state of Arizona.

    Just last month, Arizona's cities began to require people to wear face masks in public. Not everyone agrees, however. Recently, a few hundred people gathered in the city of Scottsdale to make clear they did not want government officials telling them to cover their faces.

    While speaking, city council member Guy Phillips tore off his black face mask, and declared, "I can't breathe!" He said later that his words were meant to show problems with the masks, and not to insult the dying words of George Floyd, killed by a Minnesota police officer.

    Phillips' words were widely considered as racist.

    The incident helps reinforce the image of Arizona, where many people have strongly opposed government rules since the days of the Wild West.

    The message that "my mask protects you, your mask protects me" is not always accepted in a place with a mind-your-own-business mentality.

    After all, Arizona was home to two outspoken U.S. senators who tried but failed to become president. Barry Goldwater, known for his small-government conservatism, was the Republican Party's candidate in 1964. Forty-four years later, the Republicans chose John McCain, known for his idealism, as their presidential candidate.

    "Historically, Arizona has been something of a loner state, and many Arizonans seem to still like that image," notes David Berma.

    "It's...'we're out here, we're individuals, we don't need the government, keep it small, let us do our thing,'" he explained.

    Berma is retired, but once served as a professor at Arizona State University. He has written extensively on the state's history and political culture.

    Many Arizonans simply do not believe that coronavirus is dangerous or that masks are effective.

    "One of our very first things we fought for in the Revolutionary War was the idea you can't have a king over you making laws, we have a democratic process," said Sherry Wootan. She identified herself as a Republican Party supporter.

    Wootan said she wears a mask only when required, and she does not cover her nose.

    Supporters of President Donald Trump watch Air Force One land at Sky Harbor International Airport outside the Honeywell factory Tuesday, May 5, 2020, in Phoenix. Trump was visiting the manufacturer who has retooled to make N95 face masks in Phoenix
    Supporters of President Donald Trump watch Air Force One land at Sky Harbor International Airport outside the Honeywell factory Tuesday, May 5, 2020, in Phoenix. Trump was visiting the manufacturer who has retooled to make N95 face masks in Phoenix

    Arizona's government reaction to the coronavirus health crisis was slow and ineffective, even as cases began to increase in June. Many believe, however, that Arizona's anti-government attitude caused many people to ignore public health experts.

    In many ways, the state still ignores customs long accepted in the rest of the country. Arizona was the last state to accept Martin Luther King Junior Day as a holiday. It still does not change to daylight saving time in the spring. Arizona's social welfare programs are relatively small.

    Since the virus arrived in Arizona, the state's Republican governor, Doug Ducey, has said he will fight the virus "the Arizona way." Ducey resisted pressure to slow the economic reopening of the state or order people to wear masks in public. He later gave city mayors and county leaders the power to order masks. He urges people to wear them but has not made it a state requirement.

    Ducey has given nearly all businesses, including restaurants, permission to stay open. The restrictions in place now are less restrictive than those in place in the spring.

    This month Arizona has reported among the highest coronavirus rates per person among all U.S. states. About 90 percent of the state's intensive-care hospital beds are in use. Arizona has set records for the number of hospital beds and ventilators being used by patients with COVID-19.

    Billie Orr is vice mayor of Prescott, a conservative city north of Phoenix. Prescott's government has not required people to wear masks.

    "We get... a lot of emails — ‘You need to mandate masks. You need to close everything up.' At the same time, you have to balance your economy," Orr said.

    When asked many Arizona citizens used words such as "kings," "dictators" or "tyrants" to describe government leaders who demand masks be worn.

    Some blame one man: Governor Doug Ducey.

    "Yes, Arizonans are independent and tend to take their own path," said Terry Goddard, a former mayor of Phoenix. But, he added, it is "more about leadership and confusion at the top than resistance to government overreach."

    I'm Susan Shand.

    The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    mask – n. a facial covering

    king – n. a royal ruler

    attitude – n. a point of view

    ventilator – n. a machine that helps a person breathe

    mandate – n. to demand, or pass a law

    tyrant – n. a cruel, undemocratic ruler

    tend – v. to take care of

    confusion – n. uncertainty