Tempe City Council declared a citywide emergency in response to the spread of COVID-19 during a special council meeting on Wednesday, March 18.
The Tempe City Charter allows this action, but the city has never used it in response to a public health emergency. Now that the ordinance is approved, Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell may "enact necessary emergency response measures via proclamation during the duration of an emergency."
“The Council moved forward on the emergency declaration in the event that further action is needed,” Mitchell said. “Any action taken would be done after thoughtful deliberation and would be in line with the recommendations of state and federal agencies for the safety of the residents of Tempe and the public at large. Stemming the spread of COVID-19 or coronavirus is our highest priority.”
Mitchell has yet to enact a proclamation, but he could use one to close down bars, restaurants and more during the emergency. While a few Tempe bars have closed since health officials released new recommendations for coronavirus, some remain open.
Mitchell issued a statement Wednesday clarifying that he has "not ordered the closure of bars or the transition of restaurants to drive-through or curbside pickup."
However, he said that dining in "any establishments" is discouraged at this time, and also urged residents to "stay home as much as possible and try to physically distance yourself from others if you do have to go out."
Mitchell could also impose curfews or request aid from law enforcement agencies.
The decision comes one day after Mayor Kate Gallego of Phoenix declared a state of emergency in the city earlier this week, ordering the closure of bars and the conversion of restaurants to offer takeout, delivery and drive-thru options only.
Gilbert, Mesa and Buckeye have also declared states of emergency throughout the week.
The public was not allowed in-person access to this morning's meeting, but the meeting was streamed live on the internet and Tempe Channel 11. Members of the public were able to submit questions before and during the meeting via email.
The council originally intended to decide on this action during a special council meeting slated for March 19, but they chose to hold a separate meeting a day earlier. The previously scheduled special council meeting will still be held tomorrow to address different agenda items.
Editor's Note: This story was updated at 8:36 p.m. to include a statement from Mark Mitchell.
Wyatt Myskow is the project manager at The State Press, where he oversees enterprise stories for the publication. He also works at The Arizona Republic, where he covers the cities of Peoria and Surprise.