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Governor has much to consider before restart of economy

Gov. Doug Ducey discusses COVID-19 and the state's response at a press conference last week. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Gov. Doug Ducey discusses COVID-19 and the state’s response at a press conference last week. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Gov. Doug Ducey has to decide this week whether his executive orders limiting activity due to COVID-19 are worth the continued harm to the Arizona economy.

The governor most immediately has to act on his month-old stay-at-home order telling people they cannot go out unless they are engaged in an essential activity. That edict self-destructs at midnight Thursday night unless renewed.

Given Ducey’s cautious approach to enacting the order in the first place — at least two dozen other governors had acted before Arizona’s March 31 implementation — it is unlikely he would allow it to simply expire. Instead the expectation is for a loosening, perhaps tied to some advisories about social distancing.

And it won’t matter much, at least to the Arizona economy, unless Ducey also alters his list of what are “essential” business and services — and the more important list of what are not and must remain shuttered. There is no deadline for Ducey to act as that order on essential businesses remains in effect until he alters or rescinds it.

The governor’s orders already permit people to go out to shop at essential businesses. So easing his order to let people go out won’t mean anything if there’s no new places for them to go, whether to shop,  dine, drink or even have a picnic in the park.

Arizona Chamber of Commerce CEO Glenn Hamer, left, earlier this year with Gov. Doug Ducey (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)

Arizona Chamber of Commerce CEO Glenn Hamer, left, earlier this year with Gov. Doug Ducey (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)

But here, too, the governor was slow and deliberate about deciding what can remain open, even to the point of initially concluding that barber shops, hair salons, spas and tattoo parlors were essential until he finally acknowledged that there was no reasonable way to maintain social distance.

A similar loosening is likely to be in a stepped approach, providing additional opportunities for people to shop — with some controls.

That’s exactly the course being urged by Glenn Hamer, chief executive of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a close political ally.

“As we thaw out parts of the economy that have been frozen, we need to do that safely,” he said. That starts with opening up smaller retail operations with “appropriate social distancing” and other safety protocols.

But all that is too slow for some Arizonans who want Ducey to immediately scrap both his stay-at-home and essential services orders.

Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa, said he does not dispute that the orders — fewer infections and “flattening the curve” to preserve hospital beds — appear to have worked.

“The question is, to what extent?” he told Capitol Media Services after a rally last week.

“How long do we wait to get our economy back?” Farnsworth continued. “I think the majority of the people down here feel like the time has come, that the main point of danger has passed, that it’s time to reopen.”

All this occurs against the backdrop of additional hits to the Arizona economy, with even more people applying last week for first-time unemployment benefits. That puts the number of Arizonans who have lost their jobs since the outbreak — and his executive orders — in the half-million range.

But it also comes as questions remain about how extensive is the virus in Arizona and whether, without comprehensive data, it is premature to reopen segments of the state economy.

The health department reported Monday another 1,732 people had been tested. That brings the overall tally in the state to 66,543.

That is just 0.9 percent of the total population. Kaiser Family Foundation finds only Virginia with a per capita testing rate as low.

There have been some moves to improve that, including an order from state Health Director Cara Christ last week allowing those who believe they have been exposed to COVID-19 to get tested.

And on Monday, Ducey announced what he called the Arizona Testing Blitz, aiming to get anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 people tested every Saturday for three consecutive weeks, beginning this weekend.

“The testing is important,” said gubernatorial press aide Patrick Ptak, saying that’s why Ducey announced the blitz, though it won’t start before his boss has to make a decision on the stay-at-home order.

But Ptak said Ducey’s decision will be based on more than just test results.

“Other data is also important, like whether our hospitals are prepared,” he said. And Arizona got some good news, with the health department saying Monday was the first day in more than a month that no COVID-19 deaths were reported.

The governor separately has been promoting antibody testing to determine who already has had the virus — and may now be immune. And Ducey has made it clear that, too, will figure in the decisions he has to make.

“Antibody testing can be a game-changer in our fight against COVID-19,” he said in a prepared statement last week when Sonora Quest Laboratories announced it will offer such blood tests in addition to diagnostic tests to determine active infection. “This is another welcome expansion that will help provide certainty as Arizona looks to economic recovery at the appropriate time.”

Ducey also is touting a new program at the University of Arizona which is providing $3.5 million to test 250,000 health care workers and first responders to determine who has been exposed to the virus and developed antibodies. But the first testing won’t begin until later this week, and initially only in Pima County.

Hamer said the bottom line — and the message he wants the governor to have — is that businesses want to reopen.

“Arizonans want to work,” he said.

“We want to see people go back to work,” Hamer continued. “And we want to see our economy fully restored.”

Still, he said, it has to be done in a prudent and safe fashion.

“And it’s going to be done in phases,” Hamer said.

He said there are models out that that work.

“Protocols are going to have to be in place that limit traffic,” Hamer said.

That’s already being done in many grocery, home improvement and department stores, with a new customer being let in when one leaves. And he said that’s even more important as the rules for who can open are broadened.

“We can’t have a gazillion people in a small store when you have a pandemic without effective therapeutics and good treatment,” Hamer said. And he said there are likely to be other mandates and suggestions, ranging from sheets of plastic separating customers from cashiers to tape lines on the floor marking social distance for those waiting in line.

All this presumes that even if Ducey loosens the restrictions that Arizonans will be willing to foray out.

“Consumer confidence is the $64,000 question,” Hamer conceded. “It’s very important for the governor’s actions to continue to be consistent with the comfort level of the citizens.”

5 comments

  1. Please give us the opportunity to show our respect for one another as we social distance, give regard to our elderly and generally behave towards one another as we want others to behave towards us. Humans are intelligent beings who can follow guidelines and show grace and respect. If you can’t, stay home or risk loosing the privilege to access businesses. Have faith in us Governor!

  2. Data? You want data? Take a look at the data coming out from various places around the world that show that the actual death rate from this disease is somewhere closer to 0.2%, about the same a seasonal flu. You want more data? Take a look at all of the hospitals across the country that are furloughing thousands of workers because there is nothing for them to do! The Mayo Clinic, right here in Arizona, is a good example of that. More data? Take a look at the number of hospital beds that are NOT being used for COVID-19 patients. More? How about the evidence that the virus doesn’t survive long at all in temps above 92 degrees. We’re 10 over that! Come on! Enough is enough already! Get this state back up and running again.

  3. There is no scientific proof that antibodies in a Covid-19 “survivor” convey immunity to the virus. On the contrary, in China, where the virus first appeared, survivors are being reinfected and suffering through the same illnesses as before. This is just a lot of magical thinking posing as “the truth”: if we say the words often enough, they will become reality. Not likely, even less so given Arizona’s pathetically low and ill-managed testing regime. Don’t come out of your homes yet.

    Here’s hoping neither Ducey nor COC head Hamer have latent viral infections, as there was no social distancing in evidence between them when the photo in the article was taken. Hopefully, it was stock. If not, good luck to each. Just don’t compel the rest of Arizonans to suffer the same constant uncertainty and possible infection, even death, all in service to Mammon.

  4. PS per Darin’s observations above, in these very same pages it was reportef that the reason Mayo and Banner are furloughing workers and cutting costs is because prevalent Covid-19 is eating up hospital beds and making safe elective surgery impossible, thereby I creasing expenses and reducing revenues. According to a Mayo spokesperson, “At the same time, the hospital was spending money by ‘making critical investments to develop and expand testing, conduct research to stop the pandemic and re-align our facilities and care teams to treat COVID-19 patients.'”

    Doesn’t sound like we’re off the hook to me. The rest of Darin’s claims are equally suspect. So it goes among the magical thinkers: invent your own pretty interpretation of reality. The virus isn’t buying any of it.

  5. The odd thing about Darin’s comments is that no credible medical authority recommends lifting the restrictions until we have more widespread testing. How can we know it is under control unless we can test for its existence. As Darin and his magical thinkers continue to claim it is “just the flu,” the death toll continues to climb.

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