Wednesday, December 2, 2020
Gov. Doug Ducey revealed a batch of new COVID-19 safety measures at a press conference today as coronavirus cases rise to higher levels than Arizona saw in its summer surge.
Many healthcare workers and experts have called for increased statewide mitigation, but the measures Ducey introduced today fail to completely meet their demands.
More than 155 Arizona physicians, health professionals and educators called upon the governor to instate a statewide mask mandate and prohibit indoor gatherings at venues where crowds of people can gather indoors in an appeal letter today.
Eight leaders from the state’s hospital systems wrote a letter to Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ Tuesday pleading for statewide COVID-19 mitigation policies such as a ban on indoor dining and establishing a curfew.
On Monday, experts from the COVID-19 modeling team at the University of Arizona called for a shelter-in-place order and mask mandate to slow the spread of the virus.
Instead, Ducey issued executive orders allowing restaurants to utilize public right-of-ways to expand outdoor dining while giving them $1.2 million to do so and requiring public events with over 50 attendees to enforce mitigation strategies.
The governor also implemented an executive order to ensure when a COVID-19 vaccine arrives, it will be free of charge to those who take it.
Ducey also announced an additional $60 million in funding to increase hospital staffing—an addition to the $25 million in funds for staffing announced Nov. 18, which Ducey said brought 300 additional health care workers into the state.
Ducey said the new influx of funds will provide funding for 500 nurses through January.
“It will ensure our hospitals can care for those who need it and that the existing staff in our hospitals are properly compensated for their dedication and commitment,” Ducey said.
Arizona faces alarming COVID-19 numbers; Ducey criticizes Tucson’s curfew
At the press conference, Christ shared Arizona has reported 340,979 COVID-19 cases and 6,739 coronavirus deaths to date. Key metrics such as case counts, percent positivity and ICU and inpatient hospital bed usage are all trending upward.
Last week, the state had a coronavirus percent positivity of 15%, and Christ said this number is expected to increase this week.
Despite the alarming metrics and calls from healthcare experts from across the state, Ducey declined to mandate masks statewide, and claimed, “Independent sources have Arizona’s mask usage rate at 91%.”
“There’s almost nowhere you can go in the state of Arizona and no part of our economy that you can participate in without wearing a mask,” the governor said.
Ducey made clear he is adamantly opposed to statewide shutdowns or stay-at-home orders.
“Some have called for additional mitigation measures, shutdowns of entire industries, and curfews on our citizens,” he said. “I believe we should instead focus on accountability and enforcing the rules we have in place now and taking a targeted approach to ensure we all participate in the safety precautions we know work.”
The governor criticized the curfew Tucson’s city council passed last night and refuted claims from Mayor Regina Romero that she hasn’t been able to communicate with the governor since March.
“I disagree with the [curfew], I don’t think it’s the right approach... We believe that if we continue the mitigation steps that we’ve laid out, and there will be enforcement around those mitigation steps, those would be the best things that we could do to continue to slow the spread,” Ducey said. “If mayor Romero wants to talk, she knows where to find me, and every time she’s reached out she gets a call back.”
Arizona could receive COVID-19 vaccines by mid-December
Ducey called news of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines reporting 95% effectiveness “incredible news” and said Arizona will have access to the vaccines by mid to late December.
According to Christ, the number of vaccines Arizona receives by the end of December could be in the “hundreds of thousands.”
The governor said he visited with insurance company leaders yesterday who agreed the vaccine should be free to those who need it. Today, Ducey issued an executive order ensuring the vaccine is free and said Christ will reveal the state’s complete vaccination plan later this week.
Ducey said teachers will be at the front of the list when the vaccine arrives.
“I’ve asked [Christ] to prioritize teachers as among the first individuals in the state who will receive the vaccine. We want our schools open and our teachers protected,” Ducey said. “Teachers are essential to our state, so under our plan, they will be prioritized along with our healthcare works, doctors, nurses, hospital staff, long-term care, and of course our most vulnerable, and critical law enforcement officers.”
Christ said Arizona will likely receive weekly allocations of vaccines based on the state’s population.
“We’ll be working with our county health departments to get that out...that first priority group, those healthcare workers and long term care facilities, we will be working with the healthcare systems to ensure they can get their employees vaccinated.”
Arizona’s health department director said the state will set up sites for essential workers to receive the vaccine.
“We will also be setting up sites, though they may be industry-specific, as we get into those essential workers,” Christ said. “So there will be locations where either people can go, or if the business is big enough, we may go to them and vaccinate them.”
The Pfizer vaccine has to be kept in temperatures of negative 70 degrees Celsius, while Moderna’s vaccine must be kept frozen at negative 20 degrees Celsius.
Christ said the federal government will directly ship Pfizer’s vaccines directly to their intended locations in rechargeable storage containers to maintain the temperature.
Moderna’s vaccine can be stored in regular refrigeration or freezer spaces and will arrive “a week or two” after Pfizer’s, according to Christ.
“Those will likely be the vaccines that will be prioritized for the rural areas since they don’t have such stringent temperature requirements,” she said.
Ducey said Arizonans won’t be mandated to take the vaccine but will be encouraged to do so through “a public service announcement” and “public education.”
“Much like masks, we want to see the maximum level of compliance,” he said. “These vaccinations are our road back to a normal life, a safe life where we are protected and our loved ones are protected.”
Ducey issues executive order to aid restaurants
The governor announced an executive order allowing restaurants to extend their outdoor dining areas to public sidewalks and right-of-ways.
Ducey also announced a partnership with the Arizona Restaurant Association to create $1.2 million in funds “to help small Arizona-owned and operated businesses buy heaters, barriers, outdoor furniture and other supplies in order to move operations outside.”
“This allows our local restaurants to expand outdoor dining and create additional space for people to dine out safely while still following all the health and safety requirements,” he said.
Executive order on public gatherings
Ducey also announced an executive order for local jurisdictions to announce public gatherings of more than 50 people and to post details of the event’s COVID-19 mitigation strategies on the jurisdiction’s website.
“These should include an agreement by the hosts that they will implement these mitigation strategies and that they will be enforced by the organizers and local law enforcement,” Ducey said.
Dr. Christ said the health department has responded to more than 2,800 unique complaints about establishments violating public health guidelines such as mask-wearing and social distancing, and that 90% of the cases have been resolved.
Ducey announced a revised policy today that when a business receives two substantiated claims, it will be given a warning and the opportunity to comply. If the business does not comply, they will face closure.
Christ urged Arizonans to alert the state health department of issues of noncompliance at azhealth.gov/compliancecovid-19 or by calling the Arizona COVID-19 hotline at 1-844-542-8201.
“Our businesses have done a great job and it’s not right and it’s not fair to those that are playing by the rules for others to openly ignore them,” Ducey said. “The outliers are few and far between, but we need fairness and an even playing field.”
However, despite the requests of many medical workers across the state, Ducey will not impose a statewide lockdown. Instead, the financial security of the state is on the governor’s mind.
“I hear the very loud calls from folks yelling lockdowns, and I just don’t think it’s the right policy. I think that we have put aggressive mitigation out there, we know that we can slow the spread, but when you say the word lockdown, you’re talking about shutting down entire industries, closing classrooms, bankrupting small businesses,” Ducey said. “I don’t think the right answer is to throw hundreds of thousands out of work before the holidays to slow the spread, because I don’t think it will slow the spread.”