During a press conference this afternoon, Gov. Doug Ducey was in the hot seat as reporters asked why he hasn’t taken more action to curb the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Arizona.
As of today, there are 108,614 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 2,038 Arizonans dying after contracting the virus. Arizona has seen a 50 percent increase in cases since June 21 and is the new national hotspot for the virus.
Ducey explained that the state’s stay-at-home order ended on May 15, after weeks of decreasing positivity rates in testing. When he lifted the order, he assured the press that Arizona "was clearly on the other side of this pandemic."
During the first couple of weeks immediately following the state’s reopening, case numbers remained stagnant. But beginning two weeks after the order was lifted, numbers began to skyrocket and there is currently widespread transmission.
On June 29, Ducey announced that schools could welcome students back to their campuses on Aug. 17. Reporters questioned the governor on whether he thinks that date should be moved back even further, or if schools should even resume in-person instruction at all.
Ducey said kids will go back to school when it's safe to do so, and the Aug. 17 deadline is an “aspirational date.”
“Our decisions are being informed by parents, teachers and superintendents,” he said. “Our children need an education, and we believe the optimum place to do is in a school. If that's not possible, we can do a lot of this virtually.”
He said over the next 10 days, the government will assess the most recent data and provide more clarity on how to move forward.
Ducey announced that restaurants across the state should limit their indoor dining capacity to less than 50 percent. He said there should be as few people inside each establishment as possible.
The governor also announced an initiative called Project Catapult which intends to dramatically increase COVID-19 testing in the state. Ducey said it is a partnership with Sonora Quest Laboratories and others in the private sector. He said there will be an “exponential increase” in testing and processing abilities, and promised that 60,000 tests would be administered per day by the end of August.
At several moments during the meeting, the governor assured reporters that his decisions regarding COVID-19 mitigation will be based on the best interest of public health, not politics.
Reporters pressed Ducey on why he hasn’t enacted a second stay-at-home order, since Arizona’s case numbers are higher than ever. Ducey said this week Arizona has seen a promising plateau in case numbers, and would like to see if that holds in the future.
One journalist said there was no consistency in the government’s criteria on which establishments should be closed and which can remain open, citing the fact that tubing outdoors is currently prohibited but getting a haircut in a salon and eating in restaurants is still allowed.
Ducey said their actions are intended to break up large gatherings and instead put people in situations where they’re around fewer people.
The governor encouraged the public to wear masks in public and stay home as much as possible, saying “we can be in a much different position than we are today” if we all do so.
Ducey also thanked local leaders for enacting mandatory mask ordinances in public, saying it will make a difference in slowing the virus. When he was asked about a statewide mask mandate, Ducey said local decisions and local enforcement is key to making positive changes.
He said no matter what the government does, Arizona and the world is going to be dealing with COVID-19 for a long time. Ducey believes its best to have the public “buy-in” on these safety measures through public peer pressure rather than direct government action.
“I think this is going to be a long slog in terms of where we are,” Ducey said. “We are at a time of maximum challenge in Arizona. I'm very confident we can navigate through this.”