After being criticized for being slow to take measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, Governor Doug Ducey announced around 5 p.m. on Thursday that he is activating the National Guard and issuing several executive orders aimed at freeing up medical resources in hospitals and keeping people from congregating at bars, gyms, and restaurants.
"To ensure that Arizonans have continued access to food, I’m activating the National Guard to assist grocery stores & food banks in the face of heightened demand," Ducey wrote on Twitter. "This will ensure grocery stores have the manpower needed to keep shelves stocked."
Shelves have been emptied of essentials throughout the state but particularly in Maricopa County as panic buying set in and people began to hoard toilet paper, thermometers, and medicine.
Ducey said he is also issuing an executive order to halt all elective surgeries to "free up medical resources and maintain the capacity for hospitals and providers to continue offering vital services," reserving space and equipment needed in hospitals.
And he's issuing an executive order to delay expiration dates on Arizona driver licenses in an effort to prevent people over the age of 65 from needing to visit the Motor Vehicle Division to renew their licenses in the midst of a public health emergency.
Finally, days after some of the largest cities in the state declared states of emergency and ordered that bars close and restaurants switch to delivery, take-out, or drive-thru only, Ducey says he is issuing an executive order to do the same — but only for counties with confirmed cases of COVID-19 (that's six of 15 counties so far).
"I’m issuing an Executive Order that requires restaurants in counties w/ confirmed cases of #COVID19 to provide dine-out options only, & closes bars, movie theaters and gyms," Ducey said on Twitter. "Restaurants will be allowed to deliver alcoholic beverages w/ food purchase."
Arizona now joins 27 other states that have activated the National Guard in response to the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak.
In the two weeks since the second COVID-19 case cropped up in Maricopa County, on March 3, the state's case count has jumped from two to 44. On Thursday morning, 17 new cases were announced, the largest single-day increase in Arizona since the outbreak began.
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To date, the state public health lab (ASPHL) has tested 330 people. The Arizona Department of Health Services has claimed the state health lab has the capacity to test 450 samples a day. Yet 130 tests remain pending, many of which have been pending for days. The state has yet to provide data on the number of tests being carried out by private labs.
With a population of more than seven million, the testing currently being done in Arizona still does not nearly meet the level of aggressive testing that experts say is required to flatten the curve and stop the spread of the virus.
"There are not enough tests for everyone who wants to be tested at this time," said Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, at a press conference on Thursday morning, stating that there is a national shortage of tests for COVID-19.
Just eight days ago, there were 1,200 cases of coronavirus across 41 states in the country. As of Thursday morning, there are almost 12,000 known cases across all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and three U.S. territories.