Doug Ducey extends stay-home order; shops to reopen

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Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during a news conference about extending his statewide stay-at-home order, Wednesday, April 29, 2020, at the Arizona Commerce Authority Conference Center in Phoenix. (Sean Logan/The Arizona Republic via AP)

Doug Ducey on Wednesday extended his stay-at-home order through May 15 but said he will allow some nonessential retail businesses to reopen with health precautions.

The Republican governor said there are signs the spread of the new virus has slowed in the state, but there’s no clear indication that deaths and new cases are trending down. He can’t more fully reopen the state until that becomes clear, Ducey said.

He’s allowing retail businesses to open next Monday with curbside and delivery service or with appointments, and they can completely reopen by the end of next week if they take steps to allow social distancing. He’s said restaurants will not be allowed to reopen their dining rooms before May 12, but he hasn’t decided when he’ll lift the restrictions now in place.

The governor praised the public and business community for adhering to his stay-home and closure orders, saying they saved lives.

“We’ve worked together, we’ve united together. We’re going to continue to take that approach,” Ducey said. “Your actions are working. Everyone is doing their part. It’s not that I feel that — I see it.”

Ducey closed schools on March 15, bars and restaurants on March 19 and issued the stay-at-home order on March 30. That order allowed people to carry out essential tasks such as working, exercising, going to the doctor, grocery store or pharmacy. It otherwise required people to stay at home and barred nonessential businesses from operating as usual.

He has been under pressure to reopen the state economy from business groups and people who opposed the shutdown order. Some businesses announced Wednesday that they would reopen Friday even if Ducey extended his order, but the governor had a warning for them — they could be jailed or lose their liquor licenses.

“I feel your frustration, and I have a sense of urgency to reopen,” he said. “It would be irresponsible for me to make decisions to reopen … and have to ask people to do this again.”

And as a former small-business owner, Ducey said he felt the pain and frustration that owners of closed businesses and laid-off workers are feeling. But he said the state can’t risk moving too quickly, allowing the virus to spread and overwhelm the health care system. Allowing businesses to open before people feel safe patronizing them would not be helpful, he added.

“I know it’s been a long 30 days for all of us, most of all for small business owners,” Ducey said. “It’s 15 more days. I’m asking for some patience.”

The governor also was getting pressure to keep things closed, notably from the mayors of Flagstaff, Phoenix and Tucson, to protect public health.

Ducey’s decision came as number of Arizona deaths linked to the coronavirus outbreak surpassed 300. The state Department of Health Services reported at least 304 deaths, an increase of 11 from the previous day, and at least 7,202 COVID-19 cases, an increase of 254 from Tuesday.

Deaths have been steadily increasing since Ducey issued his stay-at-home order late last month. He had said he would make any decision on reopening based on the advice of public health professionals.

The governor said Wednesday the data didn’t provide a clear enough answer for him to do anything other than to ease his order. The state has seen lower numbers of suspected cases in hospital emergency rooms, but it hasn’t experienced a downward trajectory of cases over two weeks or a drop in the percentage of positive tests.

Those are key metrics the Trump administration has set for states to decide whether to start easing restrictions designed to stop the spread of the virus. Ducey said he didn’t want to open too early and see new cases force him to reimpose restrictions.

The state tracks confirmed cases. But a lack of testing and the fact that many people have few or no symptoms means the number of cases could be much higher. The state plans a testing blitz over the next three Saturdays where it seeks to test as many as 20,000 people each day.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority of people recover.

Republished with the permission of the Associated Press.