A somber Gov. Doug Ducey on Thursday addressed Arizona’s record surge in COVID-19 cases, urging individuals to slow down and “do the right thing” but taking no new actions.
“This is Arizona’s first wave and it will not be our last wave,” he said in a teleconference. “Where we are right now and what we expect is manageable, but we need to shift now. We expect that our numbers will be worse next week and the week following in terms of cases and hospitalizations.”
Ducey remained firm on his stance of keeping businesses open, but also called for accountability when individuals step out of line.
“This is not another executive order to post. This is not about closing businesses. This is about public education and personal responsibility,” the two-term Republican governor said.
Ducey faced criticism for inconsistent mask use and failing to social distance while attending a rally hosted by President Donald Trump on Tuesday, where 3,000 people gathered in a north Phoenix megachurch.
“We are going to protect freedom of the press and the right of the people to peacefully assemble in an election year or in any year, it’s in the amendment,” the governor responded.
Ducey stressed the importance of slowing down and making informed decisions when deciding whether to leave the house.
“When we reopened the economy, we said this was a green light to proceed, not a green light to speed” he said. “We’ve had some speeding, and we’ve had some speeding in business.”
Ducey also called for holding accountable those businesses that aren’t following the existing rules, to enforce social distancing and mask use for customers. He cited the Riot House in Scottsdale, where the state Department of Liquor Licenses and Control has issued a final warning to comply with Ducey’s executive order, and other establishments.
“If you have not been cited, you can prevent being cited by putting in proper social distancing policies,” he said.
Ducey also highlighted a recent conversation with Trump and praised him and Vice President Mike Pence for their attentiveness, adding, “I got a personal phone call from President Trump wanting to know the situation in the Navajo Nation.”
Maricopa County officials on Wednesday said the state’s most populous county is starting to truly feel the magnitude of the drastic surge in cases.
“We are still seeing record numbers of COVID-19 cases. We’re now averaging over 18 hundred cases per day,” said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director of the county’s disease control division. “We’ve seen about 36 percent of all of our cases in just the last week.”
The announcement came six days after Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, Mesa, Glendale, Tempe and Scottsdale, mandated the use of masks in public. Gov. Doug Ducey’s six-week statewide stay-at-home order expired May 15.
“With more information about how many people are infected without symptoms and without knowing it,” Sunenshine said, “we made the recommendation to require cloth face masks in the public. A requirement is a really big step. We value people’s rights to make decisions about what they do or do not want to do.”
Maricopa County joins Pima County, which includes Tucson, and several cities in Arizona in requiring cloth face masks for everyone in public.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has laid out recommendations for wearing face masks in areas of high traffic and potential spread.
“It’s more important now than ever with cases increasing so rapidly,” Sunenshine said. “I also want you to know that this is not forever. It is until we have the spread of COVID-19 in Maricopa County under control. And then we can reconsider all of our recommendations.”
As of Thursday, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 63,030 cases of COVID-19 and 1,490 deaths in the state. It said 619,143 tests for COVID-19 have been completed in public and private labs in Arizona, and 8.9% of tests have come back positive for the virus that causes the disease.
Story by Jackson Lautaret, Cronkite News