Tempe mayor wants a statewide mask mandate

In a sit-down with The State Press, Mayor Corey Woods said he supports ASU’s decision to reopen campus with the protocols it's announced

Tempe Mayor Corey Woods said in order to stop the spread and provide clarity on COVID-19 rules and regulations, a statewide mask mandate should be put in place. 

Woods, who tested positive for the coronavirus the same week he was sworn in to office, said he was grateful for Gov. Doug Ducey's executive order that gave the power to local governments to mandate masks. He said a "uniform" response however, will alleviate confusion among his constituents. 

Since being sworn in on July 2, Woods said he's caught up on paperwork, talked to small business owners, replied to emails and is consistently checking in with himself to make sure his actions have a "forward motion," he said. 

"So far, it's been a whirlwind," Woods said. "It's a balancing act of making sure I'm doing the constituent service work, responding to people who have very immediate needs, but also making sure that I'm keeping my agenda – and the city's agenda – on track."

While the full council will not meet for another regular public session until August, Woods told The State Press about his first week as mayor, including plans for the future, the state's response to COVID-19 and how the University is intertwined in his plans. 

If it were up to you, what decision would you make about ASU reopening for in-person classes in the fall?

ASU's approach for the fall remains the same, even as positive cases continue to be recorded in Arizona. Students can return to campus for full-immersion in-person classes on a rotating schedule or attend through Zoom. The University said classrooms will have students physically distanced and spaces routinely cleaned. 

READ MORE: As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, students worry about on-campus classes

"I fully support the direction that Dr. Crow and his team have taken on this," Woods said. "I know that they are monitoring the situation … and doing the responsible thing by making preparations."

What sort of partnerships are you envisioning with ASU in the future?

Woods graduated from ASU and before taking office was the chief of staff at ASU Preparatory Academy. He ran on a platform of ensuring post-secondary education for Tempe students and believes there could be a strong mutual connection between the city and the University.

"ASU has so many incredible assets," Woods said, referencing a number of discussions he's had to create possible forums or future meetings about police and criminal justice reform, COVID-19 testing and homelessness.

Woods noted partnerships between the University and the city are going to be "a combination of research and implementation." 

Woods said his COVID-19 test was through ASU's Biodesign Institute, a quick and cheap test based on saliva samples, and he said it's a process he wants to make more widely available.

Would you go against state guidance regarding COVID-19 in order to keep the people of Tempe safe?

Woods said he appreciates state guidance so far, which turned mandating masks over to local governments, but believes more could be done. 

"I am glad that in one of the governor’s most recent executive orders, he did provide cities and towns with the authority to enact measures that were stricter than state guidelines," Woods said. "I still think that a statewide mask ordinance would be the best way to go with this."

How are you approaching your goals now that COVID-19 has taken a front seat in our lives?

With unemployment and small businesses taking a major financial hit, Woods said he's heard from many who are worried about their decreasing salaries and a lack of constant flow of income.

"In order to continue to remain that diverse, inclusive community and to live up to our values, we have to make sure that people from all different income levels and backgrounds can still afford to live here," Woods said. 

The changing environment of COVID-19 has shown some employees work better while at home and some businesses can still be accessible without the need for high-rise office buildings, Woods said.

"I do not want a situation where we're building a ton of class-A office space that sits vacant because employers are choosing to no longer send their employees to the office," Woods said. 

A number of council members said during their campaigns that they’d like to address traffic. Woods said because fewer people are out due to recommendations for social distancing and working from home, there are fewer people on the road. 

Today’s environment, with employees spaced out, has inspired Woods to think about offering or advocating for a different kind of workday. 

What should people expect to come from the long process to create this year's budget?

Woods explained this fiscal year is unlike any other. Normally, a budget would have already been discussed in full, but "that is not the case because of challenges we face, and the uncertainty is really surrounding COVID-19," Woods said. 

Before he was sworn in, Woods had lengthy conversations with Ken Jones, Tempe's assistant city manager and chief financial officer, about the budget and all the opportunities the city has to make adjustments.

"For me, it's really about going in there and taking a hard look at the budget, determining where our priorities are and then making adjustments where it’s necessary," Woods said. 

Public comments at budget hearings and messages from citizens have asked Woods and council members to commit to certain percentage distribution, he said.

"I don't really think that's the right way to go about doing things," Woods said. "I think that you have to really take the time to study what the needs are."

There have been protesters outside Tempe City Hall for the past two City Council meetings. What would you say to them?

Protesters have held signs asking Tempe City Council to defund the Tempe Police Department and acknowledge the Black Lives Matter movement. Woods addressed the movement in his swearing-in speech, saying he understood the demands for change.

READ MORE: Tempe City Council to meet Thursday for public budget hearing

While the discussions about use of force and de-escalation techniques used by the police are things to be addressed, Woods wants to intersect it with the need for mental health counseling and the community services department.

"This is not just solely a conversation about Tempe," Woods said. "We are part of a national conversation about how the public wants police departments to change and evolve. These are big discussions, and I’m absolutely committed to leading those conversations as the mayor of Tempe."

Does being the first Black mayor change anything significantly for you?

Woods said he thinks there is an expectation that he understands and will swiftly respond to address policing and the criminal justice system.

"I understand that expectation and I accept that judgement," Woods said. "I would not have run for this position and accepted this job if I didn't realize that the light might shine very brightly on me at certain times, especially in moments like this."

What would you tell students about the coronavirus?

Woods highlighted services he’s used to maintain distance in the past months before his positive test results: curbside pickup for groceries and appliances, takeout for food and technology to connect to friends, family and coworkers.

"COVID-19 is serious business. It is not something to be messed with, it is not a hoax," Woods said. "The reality is, I got it. And I was not going out to meet up in large gatherings at bars and things of that nature.

"I think we have to do whatever we can to stop the spread, because while I was very fortunate to get mild symptoms that didn’t require medication, that didn’t require any hospitalization, that didn’t require a ventilator. But there are a lot of people who are not me," Woods said. 


Reach the reporter at pjhanse1@asu.edu and follow @piperjhansen on Twitter. 

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