Arizona Gov. Ducey Says He Won't Be Rushed To Reopen State Economy
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Arizonans may face continued restrictions on where they can go and what they can do beyond the end of the month as Gov. Doug Ducey said Wednesday he won't be rushed into lifting his executive orders.
The governor acknowledged that there has been no drop-off in the number of people getting sick and dying of COVID-19 since he implemented his stay-at-home executive order on March 30. In fact, the Department of Health Services reports there have been 229 deaths so far, including 21 reported on Wednesday alone.
And he did not dispute that modeling available to his health department shows that the state still may not have reached the peak in hospitalizations, though he did dismiss them as "educated speculation.''
But Ducey said he is not ready to decide whether his orders limiting public activity and separate edicts on what businesses can and cannot be open, set to expire at midnight on April 30 will be allowed to expire, be continued as is, or be modified.
He hinted, though, that any restoration of personal travel and business openings -- whenever that occurs -- is likely to be gradual, just as he said were his decisions to shut down segments of the Arizona economy.
Ducey has been under pressure, in part from the business community and in part by members of his own Republican Party, to rescind his orders.
"I hear the calls that are out there from people that say, 'Turn it back on,' as if it were a light switch,'' he said. But Ducey said that ignores the fact that his orders were made over several weeks, each, he said, reacting to the medical evidence and news that was available.
"The result has been this dramatic slowdown or decrease in economic activity,'' the governor said.
Ducey said he prefers to think of the situation more like a "dimmer switch.'' And he said the reverse will be true as he reopens travel and business in the state.
"As appropriate, with the protection of public health first, we're going to be talking about how we increase the energy in our economy,'' he said. "I'm asking for patience.''
About the only thing the governor did agree to do on Wednesday is once again allow hospitals and outpatient clinics to once again conduct elective surgeries. That will begin May 1.
Ducey said the original concern was that there would not be enough "personal protective equipment'' like gloves, masks and gowns to handle the anticipated influx of COVID-19 patients. As it turned out, he said, the hospitals report they have sufficient stocks.
And new figures from the health department show that the state is in no danger of running out of hospital beds.
As to everything else that is now restricted, the governor said he will have a "step-by-step and incremental'' approach to reviewing them.
"They will be gradual and they will be responsible as we restore confidence in our economy at the appropriate and safe time,'' he said.
Aside from the deaths, there also were 208 new positive cases on Wednesday, bringing the Arizona tally so far to 5,459.
Of note, just 29 percent of the cases were with people with chronic medical conditions. And even expanding the definition to high-risk categories -- at least one chronic condition or being 65 or older -- the tally was just 43 percent.
That means 57 percent of those who test positive were not considered in the "at risk'' category.
And there's something else.
The guidance provided by the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to governors about making decisions about reopening their states say that one thing that's needed as a guidepost is extensive testing. But as of Wednesday, the 56,601 tests performed represented just seven-tenths of a percent of Arizonans had actually gotten tested.
The virus -- and Ducey's reaction through his executive orders -- have put a major dent in the state's economy.
Close to 420,000 Arizonans have applied for unemployment benefits in the past week, a figure that translates out in excess of 11 percent of the total state workforce.
At the same time, the closure of bars and restaurants for all but take-out and delivery has cut sharply into tax revenues, as has the closure of other businesses that the governor designated as not being essential.
On top of that, the tourism market has virtually disappeared, along with all the dollars brought in by visitors.
Legislative budget staffers, still picking through the data, put the loss in state tax dollars for the coming fiscal year at anywhere from $600 million to $1.6 billion, a big chunk out of an $11.8 billion spending plan.
Ducey called his decision to shutter some businesses "very difficult,''
But he acknowledged that the effect may have been more severe on small businesses which were not selling items and services he considered "essential.'' The result was that the businesses that remained open were the largest ones and the ones that could have the most customers, like Walmart.
Still, he said that doesn't mean he was wrong in drawing a line that created a disparate impact.
"I'm not going to exercise all the authority that's given under a declaration of emergency just because it's possible,'' Ducey said.
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