With his March 31 stay-at-home order set to expire at the end of the day Thursday, Governor Doug Ducey held a press conference Wednesday afternoon announcing his plans for the state's ongoing battle with the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Our Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected order is extended through May 15 with modifications," Ducey told a room full of reporters.
Ducey added: "Physical distancing is working. We’re slowing the spread. We’ve made significant progress and can’t let up."
As part of the phased-in approach, retailers that sell goods and aren't classified as essential under the state's previous orders can open on May 4 for drive-up or pickup service. On May 8, retailers that sell nonessential goods can open to customers if they provide appropriate social distancing, including limiting the number of people in the store. Full details about the latest changes are detailed in a new executive order published today on the governor's website.
The much-anticipated announcement came less than an hour after the mayors of Arizona's three largest cities — Phoenix, Tucson, and Flagstaff — issued a joint release calling on Ducey to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines before reopening Arizona's economy. Those guidelines say states must be able to provide clear data showing a 14-day decline in COVID-19 cases before reopening the economy.
The mayors were unsubtle in their dissatisfaction about Ducey's waiting until the day before the order expired to tell the public if he intended to extend it.
"The Governor has not yet offered clear guidance as to whether this order will be extended, modified, or end fully," the mayors said. "Our cities’ first responders are tasked with carrying out any statewide executive orders and the more time they have to prepare the better chance we have to keep our police, fire, and residents safe and healthy."
At Wednesday's presser, Ducey gave a presentation of sorts about COVID-19's impact so far and the state's ongoing response to it. According to Ducey, as of April 29:
• There have been 7,200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state. At least 304 Arizonans have died of the virus.
• The state has added 1,560 hospital beds and 1,928 ICU beds in the last 24 days. Approximately 20 percent of all available ICU beds are currently occupied by COVID-19 patients. Only 7 to 10 percent of the hospital beds are currently occupied by COVID-19 patients.
• The state's supply of ventilators has also surged, from 300 to 1,718.
• Arizona has administered 69,000 coronavirus tests. (Almost 7.3 million people live in the state.)
"We need more testing," Ducey said. An increase in both diagnostic tests (which tell you if you have the virus) and antibody tests (which tell you if you have already contracted the virus and thus may have developed immunity to it) were necessary, he said.
So far, the available tests largely have been "prioritized to people who were symptomatic or sick, and to health care workers," Ducey said.
Now, those are being expanded as part of a "testing blitz," where, for the next three Saturdays, Ducey said, "anyone who thinks they are infected or have been recently exposed" can sign up to be tested. (More info on the testing blitz here.)
Ducey also said the state will be ramping up antibody testing, aiming for 1,000 to 3,000 new tests a day by early May. The University of Arizona also has funding to conduct 250,000 antibody tests for health care workers, first responders, and U of A faculty and students, Ducey said.
Regarding the reopening of restaurants, Ducey said the "best-case scenario" would be May 12, and with likely modifications such as workers wearing masks and "asking you how you'd like your food to be delivered to your table." He said the May 12 date was arrived at in conjunction with the restaurant industry. Asked about establishments that have said they intend to flaunt his stay-at-home mandate and serve anyway, Ducey said, “You are playing with your liquor license. Don’t do that.” Fines for such violations can run up to $2,500 or six months in jail.
Bars will lag behind restaurants. "That's later on," Ducey said.
The state has been criticized for a lack of transparency about which nursing homes have seen coronavirus cases. Asked by a reporter why an adult looking to place an aging parent in a long-term care facility is still unable to determine if positive coronavirus cases have occurred there, DHS director Cara Christ, seated six feet to Ducey's right, said state law didn't allow them to release the information and that it was a matter for the courts to settle.
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"We’re informing next of kin, not the media," Ducey said.
In the meantime, Christ said, inspections of nursing homes were still being done.
"But that's not the same question," the reporter said.
"That'll have to satisfy for today," Ducey said. Then he stood up and walked out of the room.