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Gov. Ducey limits restaurant occupancy


Gov. Doug Ducey announced Thursday that he is limiting dining in restaurants to less than 50% occupancy, one day after Arizona took center stage at the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing. Our state has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases since the stay-at-home order expired on May 15 and the state began to reopen.

"We have had a brutal June in Arizona," he said. "No county in Arizona -- no matter how rural or how sparely populated -- has been spared. ... Everything we will do going forward will be to protect and promote public health in Arizona. ... When in doubt, we will err on the side of protecting lives and proceed with caution."

"The decisions that I am going to make are going to be reflective of Arizona and Arizona exclusively," he said. "There are continued sacrifices that are needed. ... There really is nothing you can do that will help more than staying home."

Ducey also said Arizona will "dramatically increase tests. ... It will be an exponential increase in tests and processing tests." He announced a partnership between the Arizona Department of Health Services and Arizona State University to "launch several testing sites that will provide free diagnostic testing for COVID-19 in high-speed under-served communities around the state."

The testing starts Saturday, July 11 in the West Valley. Make an appointment online at

On Thursday, Arizona topped 2,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19. On Monday, we crossed the 100,000 mark in total cases statewide. This week we also saw the largest number of deaths reported in a single day -- 117. And on July 1, Arizona had the most newly reported COVID-19 cases -- more than 4,800. Overall, the numbers show that Arizona reported three times as many coronavirus cases in June and it did in March, April and May combined.

Another shutdown is exactly what's needed in Arizona, according to data from the Harvard Global Health Institute. Earlier this week, some of the country's top scientists said Arizona, Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana were in bad shape in terms of COVID-19 -- and Arizona is the worst with the largest number of new cases per capita.

Earlier in the afternoon, Representative Charlene Fernandez, the House Democratic leader, and Representative Kelli Butler, the ranking member of the House HHS Committee sent a letter to the governor and Dr. Cara Christ, the director of the Arizona Department of Health Services.

"It has been extremely alarming to see Arizona's COVID-19 cases continuing to increase, with our per capita case rate now among the highest in the entire world," they wrote.

They went on to urge several "common-sense" steps, but did not go so far as to request a new stay-at-home order.

  • Mandate mask wearing in public statewide
  • Improve testing access and timing of results
  • Ensure timely and robust contact tracing
  • Address hospital capacity and workforce concerns
  • Provide opportunities for bipartisan leadership and oversight

The stay-at-home order came out on March 30 and went into effect the next day. The move came hours after several of Arizona's mayors urged action. That order was supposed to expire on April 30, but was extended -- with some changes -- until May 15. It was after Memorial Day weekend that the positivity rate in Arizona started to climb. As of Wednesday, the seven-day average positivity rate was just under 27%, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

"This positivity is too high," Ducey said Thursday after. "The more activity that is happening in the economy, the more the spread will continue. Again, validation that you are safer at home."

"I want people to know that their actions and their decisions can affect the spread of this disease," he continued.

Ducey pointed out that Arizona's curve was relatively flat for two weeks after the stay-at-home order expired on May 15. "Our rapid increase was in June," he said. He also noted a dip 10 days ago when he issued last executive order regarding gyms, bars, movies theaters, and water parks.

"The actions that we took 10 days ago are making a difference. We need to increase this difference," Ducey said.

Ducey issued an executive order closing bars, fitness centers, movies, water parks, and tubing rentals on June 29. The idea was to stem the spread of the coronavirus, but several gyms defied that order. The owner of Mountainside Fitness went to court to try to get the order blocked. Judge Timothy Thomason ruled the request Tuesday, siding with the governor. "The EO [executive order] clearly had a rational basis," the ruling states. Thomason went on to say that Mountainside Fitness will not be irreparably harmed by the executive order and that Mountainside Fitness would "not likely prevail" in the lawsuit.

When he issued that mandate, Ducey also said schools had to push back their first day of in-person classes to Aug. 17. Since then districts throughout the state have been putting together plans to start their school years as scheduled and offering options for parents who are concerned about having their kids in classrooms.

Ducey did not implement a statewide mandate for people to wear face masks while in public, but he did clear the way for cities to create their own ordinances and emergency declarations. Many of them took action within days.

Just yesterday, the White House Coronavirus Task Force took some time to focus on Arizona and other states seeing a spike in coronavirus cases. Dr. Deborah Birx, who is coordinating the White House coronavirus response, said the seven-day average for positive tests appears not to be rising. "We're hoping that it heralds a stability in Arizona, of at least reaching a plateau in their curve."

At the same time, at least one Arizona emergency room doctor says hospitals here are running close to capacity. Even as the White House Coronavirus Task Force was doing its briefing, 91% of Arizona's ICU beds were in use. That was the lowest number of available beds we've seen. As of Thursday, the number if in-use ICU beds dropped to 89%. But Dr. Murtaza Akhter of Valleywise is concerned. "We're getting lots of patients with what we call 'influenza-like illness.' Cough, Fever, shortness of breath. And almost every person I test comes back positive [for COVID-19]," he told Arizona's Family Thursday morning. "A lot of these patients are getting admitted and we're running out of beds. … We've never had to deal with something like this."

Hospital capacity isn't the only issue facing Arizona. Access to tests and the increasing wait times for results have been proving problematic, as well.

At what has become the largest COVID-19 testing site in the country, people waited in line for hours to be test. Hundreds were turned away when supplies ran out.

"We're seeing some progress in Arizona," Ducey said. "We need to see more. We simply can't let up. ... Any excuse you can find to stay home will benefit the state of Arizona, will help us navigate through this. I appreciate people for what they've done the last 10 days over the Independence Day holiday. If we can do that again over the next two weeks, we can be in a much different position than we are today -- an actually seeing a decrease in the spread of this virus."

If you do have to be out, Ducey says people should wear masks when out, practice physical distancing, and wash your hands. "I want to ask everyone to please wear a mask," he said.

"We're going to be living with this virus for the foreseeable future," Ducey continued. "While I think Arizona's time of maximum challenge is right now, we don't know what the future holds."

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Friday, 19 July 2024

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