According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Arizona has logged almost 17,600 COVID-19 deaths over the course of the pandemic and had the six highest death rate in the nation. Only 12 other states, including California, Texas, and Florida, reported higher total death tolls.
The comments were made during a May 26 Fox News town hall with Republican governors that was hosted by Sean Hannity, one of the conservative network's most bombastic, Trump-supporting commentators. Ducey, along with governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Kristi Noem of South Dakota, among others, lapped up praise from Hannity for their handling of the pandemic.
At one point, Hannity cued up Ducey, asking how the governor handled Arizona's "certain challenges throughout the pandemic."
Ducey said that the state "focused on the vulnerable right from the beginning," specifying people at high-risk of complications from COVID-19, such as seniors and people with underlying medical conditions. He then referred to a conference calls that he attended with other governors where a consensus emerged that they would "prioritize lives and livelihoods."
"All of us were going to err on the side of liberty and limited government. It was going to be a light touch. We were going to listen, inform our citizens, trust our citizens," he said. "I believe Arizonans have common sense."
In many ways, Ducey arguably did approach the pandemic with a "light touch." He never implemented a statewide mask mandate, initially banned local governments from doing so, and moved to quickly re-open the state last summer, which some public health experts say led to the summer spike in cases. The dire situation last summer placed Arizona in the national spotlight as a COVID-19 hotspot. Ducey also refused to implement mitigation measures on bars, restaurants, and nightclubs during the winter months when cases were surging.
Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association and frequent critic of Ducey's handling of the pandemic, said that, while the governor didn't exactly lie to Hannity during the town hall, he downplayed the loss of human life that occurred in Arizona due to his decisions.
"He was making a value judgement that he wanted to keep the bars, restaurants, and nightclub commerce happening, and that it was okay that older people were going to lose their lives as a result," he said. "Many of those were preventable deaths."
Humble pointed to Washington state, which is similar in population size to Arizona but has recorded only 5,722 deaths so far. Notably, Washington, in contrast to Arizona, rigorously enforced COVID-19 mitigation measures.
"He basically told the truth," Humble said, referring to Ducey's comments. "He just has a different perception of what success is."