In his first press conference since Election Day, Governor Doug Ducey took no decisive action on the COVID-19 surge running rampant in the state, but emboldened Trump supporters seeking to discredit election results with baseless conspiracy theories.
Ducey said he had faith in Arizona's elections system, but once again came short of acknowledging President-elect Joe Biden as the winner, saying the various long-shot lawsuits challenging the results need to play out.
He acknowledged that COVID-19 cases are spiking, but came short of instituting a state-wide mask mandate or other aggressive mitigation measures.
Ducey announced some new measures: stepped up messaging, $25 million to support hospital staffing, an order to ensure mask wearing at schools and on school buses, offering testing at major airports, an executive order that will help the state monitor the rollout of any vaccines. He also held a moment of silence for the 6,365 Arizonans dead from COVID-19. He did not announce any aggressive new measures to protect the hundreds of state residents that Arizona State University modeling predicts will die in the coming month.
Instead, Ducey said, he wanted to give some "straight talk" and claimed that there were two camps: those who believed COVID-19 was a hoax, and those who wanted to lock things down again.
"Most of the public isn't part of either camp and, by the way, neither am I," he said, adding he believed in targeted approaches to controlling COVID-19.
Calls for a statewide mask mandate have been amplified this week by Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Superintendent for Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman.
Ducey noted that more than 90 percent of the state has local mask mandates and said he thought local buy-in was important. He pointed out that mask mandates in other states hadn't prevented outbreaks worse than Arizona's currently is.
"We're seeing a lot of success with it at the local level where's there's local buy-in and local leadership," he said.
Hoffman tweeted after the conference that she appreciated the new measures, but they weren't enough.
"The bottom line is — More aggressive action from the state is needed," Hoffman wrote.
Ducey also received criticism today from another state official over his response to baseless claims about fraud in the presidential election. Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs issued a statement saying that her family had received threats of violence.
"Now, I am calling on other leaders in this state, including the governor whose deafening silence has contributed to the growing unrest, to stand up for the truth," Hobbs wrote.
When pressed on this by reporters, Ducey emphasized he had faith in Arizona's process — differentiating it from other states where the Trump campaign is pursuing legal challenges to election results — but fell back on his line from earlier statements that he was waiting for the results of legal challenges.
"There are questions and those questions should be answered," he said, saying he hadn't actually looked at the content of the lawsuits.
Of the two lawsuits in question, one is from the Arizona Republican Party and centers on a technicality that the state's Republican Attorney General says is a non-issue, and the second rests in part on a debunked claim that Sharpies were causing issues with ballots.
Ducey denounced any threats of violence and said his office was working with Hobbs to ensure she received whatever protection needed.
This was the first time Ducey has appeared before the media since October, making him the last governor in the nation to make a post-election public media appearance.
The message at Ducey's press conference was somewhat different than heard at a media briefing earlier in the day with the executive director of ASU's Biodesign Institute. Joshua LaBaer told the press that COVID-19 numbers are going to continue to get worse in the state and there's no indicator of slowing.
“I don’t think any of us expected it to be as bad it is,” LaBaer said of the winter spike.
While Ducey announced the increased funding for staffing hospitals, LaBaer said that many of the nurses who might boost the numbers in Arizona hospitals are busy with worse outbreaks in other states.
LaBaer said he would support a statewide mask mandate.
Arizona Public Health Association Director Will Humble blasted Ducey's announcements on the pandemic today as inadequate.
"Many weeks of opportunities to benefit from better enforcement in bars and restaurants and a uniform and enforceable statewide mask mandate have now been missed," Humble wrote in a blog post. "Because of that, far more stringent measures would be needed at this point to prevent a hospital capacity crisis. Today’s announcements were trivial and will have a negligible effect. "