Thursday, March 31, 2022

Ducey Ends Statewide Emergency Declaration for COVID-19 Pandemic

Posted By on Thu, Mar 31, 2022 at 11:00 AM

click to enlarge Ducey Ends Statewide Emergency Declaration for COVID-19 Pandemic
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Two years after declaring an emergency in response to what was then a newly emerging COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Doug Ducey is rescinding that declaration, along with a host of public health policies implemented to curb the spread of the virus.

Ducey on Wednesday officially terminated the statewide emergency declaration he signed on March 11, 2020, the same day the World Health Organization declared that the spread of the coronavirus constituted a pandemic.

“Thanks to the hard work of many — health care workers, businesses, public and private sector employees — COVID-19 is no longer an emergency in Arizona,” Ducey said in a press statement. “This virus isn’t completely gone, but because of the vaccine and other life-saving measures, today we are better positioned to manage and mitigate it.”

Ducey said his decision to end the emergency declaration was based on data from the Arizona Department of Health Services. Interim Director Don Herrington informed the governor on Wednesday that COVID-like illnesses currently represent 1.3% of cases in emergency departments and in-patient wards in Arizona, which is below the 2% threshold the agency set as “the key metric to determine current outbreak status.”

Herrington said that metric indicated “a return to baseline levels and the end of the current outbreak period.”

Since hitting 151,312 COVID-19 cases on Jan. 9, when new infections were surging due to the virus’s omicron variant, case numbers on March 20 dropped to 2,054, Herrington informed Ducey. COVID-related hospitalizations fell from 57% of in-patient beds and 63% of ICU beds at their height in January to 5% and 7%, respectively, during the week of March 15.

And more than 70% of Arizonans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 60% being fully vaccinated, Herrington said.

The end of the emergency declaration brings with it the end of various policies at the state and local level. Ducey had already ended most of those policies, such as restrictions on restaurants, other business operations and in-school education.

One policy that existed under the auspices of the emergency declaration that will no longer be in effect is the Arizona Surge Line, according to ADHS spokesman Steve Elliott. Ducey implemented the surge line system in July 2020 to facilitate the transfer COVID-19 patients out of overburdened health care facilities and into facilities with more space.

Elliott said some reporting requirements enacted under the emergency declaration will also come to an end, though many will remain in place due to federal requirements or voluntary reporting. ADHS will still receive data on positive cases, lab reporting, hospitalizations, deaths, immunizations and negative lab results from PCR tests, though not from antigen tests.

Last week, Ducey signed Senate Bill 1309, which allowed temporary professional medical licenses the state issued under the terms of his emergency declaration to continue if he terminated it. More than 2,200 of those licenses, including about 1,200 nursing licenses, are still active, The Associated Press reported. Ducey spokesman C.J. Karamargin said the governor wanted to ensure that the law was in place before lifting his emergency declaration.

The end of the statewide emergency declaration won’t affect any federal funding, ADHS and the governor’s office said. It also won’t affect emergency declarations issued by counties and municipalities.

Maricopa County on Wednesday also ended its emergency declaration. 

“I am proud of the staff at the Maricopa County Departments of Public Health and Emergency Management for coming together and leading the way on the response,” Bill Gates, chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, said in a press statement. “Their expertise allowed the Board to stay informed and direct resources to areas of the community when and where it was needed.”

Gates noted that the board was responsible for administering emergency federal funding for county operations, rental assistance, cellular hotspots for students who had to shift to remote learning, business grants and support for nonprofit agencies that provided community assistance. The board is still distributing money from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, including $100 million to combat homelessness and help people with housing and utility payments, and $14 million to help people find jobs.

County spokesman Fields Moseley said the supervisors’ decision was unrelated to the governor’s announcement. The Board of Supervisors announced that it was ending its emergency declaration about 20 minutes before the governor did the same. 

“It’s been on the radar for a while,” said Moseley.

The primary practical effect of the end of the county’s declaration is that it will end the emergency procurement rules the supervisors enacted early in the pandemic so that it could quickly acquire things like personal protective equipment without going through a competitive bidding process. Contracts that are still in place, such as those for the “isolation hotels” the county uses to shelter homeless COVID-19 patients, will continue.

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This article was originally published on Arizona Mirror.