Ducey Takes Minimal Action as COVID-19 Cases Soar

Jackie Mercandetti Photo
Governor Ducey ordered restaurant dining rooms to operate at less than 50 percent capacity today.
As Arizona COVID-19 cases continue to rise, Governor Doug Ducey has issued an executive order limiting restaurant dining rooms to 50 percent of fire-code capacity.

The move comes a week and a half after the governor ordered bars, gyms and some other congregate settings closed as Arizona's COVID-19 outbreak stresses hospital capacity.

Ducey has changed his tune from just a month ago, when he went to lengths to downplay the rise in cases that followed the end of his stay-at-home order on May 15. At a live-streamed press conference today, he emphasized that he thought some of the measures he already had implemented were starting to pay off, but said the virus is widespread and not going anywhere soon.

"This is about risk reduction," he told reporters.

Arizona has reached 108,614 total known COVID-19 cases since January, a 50 percent increase since June 21. Intensive Care Bed usage has hit 89 percent across the state, with some patients in Tucson being moved to out-of-state hospitals.

"We have had a brutal June," Ducey said.

Ducey said the new restaurant measures were made after discussion with the industry, and had been okayed by Deborah Birx, the White House's COVID-19 response coordinator. He encouraged people who are eating out to eat outside if possible.

Dr. Cara Christ, Arizona Department of Health Services director, said her agency is stepping up efforts to support staffing hospitals on the state's surge line, and that hospitals can apply to have the state assist in staffing 20 percent of their beds for six weeks.

The state is also expanding the list of facilities that can take hospitalized patients who are able to recover outside of a hospital setting, and providing incentive dollars to those facilities for staffing and protective equipment.

Ducey said the state is also exponentially expanding testing capacity in what he called "Project Catapult" — with the goal of 60,000 tests each day, by the end of August.

Major General Michael McGuire, the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs head, said testing capacity would be increased in southwest Phoenix, where people have seen wait times for tests of up to 13 hours. The department is deploying free walk-in testing sites in five ZIP codes in the next few days, and sending two federally operated testing sites to locations picked by the city of Phoenix.

Ducey has been heavily criticized for his response to the pandemic. Earlier in the day, State House Democrats shared a letter outlining measures they would like to see the governor take to address the spread of COVID-19:

The family of a Maryvale man who died from COVID-19 also held a vigil outside the capitol last night, calling on Ducey to take action. During the press conference, his daughter tweeted that she wasn't satisfied with the thoughts and prayers the governor offered to families who lost members to COVID-19:

Ducey said he was aware of some of the criticism of allowing Arizona to reach some of the highest COVID-19 rates in the nation, but said he would not be making decisions based on politics or the media.

"Anything we do going forward will be to protect" public health, he said, adding that he would err on the side of protecting lives.

He ended, as he has for weeks, by urging Arizonans to wear masks and to stay home.

"Wear a mask. The virus is widespread. You're safer at home," he said.