Ducey loosens restrictions on haircuts, dining out


Saying Arizona can handle the projected toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Doug Ducey Monday quickened the pace for his plan to reopen the state. 

Starting Friday, people can get a haircut and come next week, they can go to a restaurant with their family. Barbershops and salons can also voluntarily open on Friday if they limit how many customers they see, follow strict public health requirements and mask their workers.

This week’s phased reopening of retailers continues; today, shops can voluntarily open with social distancing measures and no in-store service, and on Friday they can open their stores if they can follow those same strict guidelines. But Ducey’s announcement that restaurants can reopen was a slight change, a day earlier than the “best-case scenario” he proposed last week.

That date was moved up because the state is testing more people and is starting to see a decline in COVID-like and flu-like illnesses and a smaller percentage of people being tested are testing positive. While Ducey said promising and adequate hospital capacity is a “green light” for more steps forward, if trends flip, Arizona will be ready to adjust, and that could mean rolling dates back

“We’re a lot smarter today than we were in January, February, March and April around this pandemic,” Ducey said. “If, God forbid, things were to turn in the wrong direction and spike, which we’re not seeing that side right now anywhere, Arizona is prepared.”

Department of Health Services Director Cara Christ said she and the state are aware of the concerns of opening up too quickly and want to avoid the possibility of prompting a “second wave” of cases, which is why they have been cautious to act. That’s also why the state isn’t giving future dates for further steps, because the situation could change as seasonal illnesses could rise and stress more resources.

“The concern is what do you do when you have a flu season, in addition to potential COVID cases that may be looking for the same resources,” Christ said. “That’s why we continue to work on getting alternate care sites in place, in case there were a surge coming in the fall at the same time.”

If positive trends do continue, Ducey said the state plans to continue to phase in a return to some kind of normal based on state and federal public health data and guidance through May and June. When restaurants and barbershops reopen, they can serve as many as they are able to if they can make the space and abide by public health guidelines, which for some could mean very close to full capacity.

As Ducey continues narrowing the list of closed businesses, gyms will be next, he said, though he gave no date. Still, in the face of mounting pressure to reopen the economy, the governor urged people to continue to have patience with his plan, which mirrors what he called “flexible” guidelines from the White House for economic reopening.

That three-phased plan aims to slowly open up businesses to normal operations while slowly reeling back social distancing measures for states that see fewer reports of COVID-19 and influenza-like illnesses for two weeks.

Under Phase One of Trump’s plan, all “vulnerable individuals” would stay home when they can and those who go out would continue to practice social distancing and avoid gatherings of 10 or more people. Some businesses would reopen with social distancing measures in place. Arizona has yet to satisfy the requirements of that phase, as it is still waiting for cases to drop consistently.

Ducey pushed back against the idea that the only thing that has changed since his last announcement was the mounting protests and Trump’s pending visit to Arizona, saying those factors had nothing to do with his decision. The governor called his first weekend of the “testing blitz” a resounding success and cited statistics showing that the number of tests coming back positive are decreasing.

But the pressure on Ducey to allow the economy to reopen comes from not just the more libertarian elements of his own Republican Party.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, told Capitol Media Services the pure numbers show that the harm to the economy is far outstripping the actual physical danger.

Bowers said he has done some analysis of the 362 deaths in Arizona so far. The vast majority — more than three-quarters — are among those 65 and older who may have had other health conditions.

What that leaves, he said, are the 82 for those age 20 through 64.

“Thirteen one hundred thousands of a percent that have perished, and we say we can’t trust the rest of enterprise to open up and use wise business practices,” Bowers said. “I’m just hoping that he will recognize that he can trust the rest of the working population to try to exercise themselves smartly in order to help us all put this behind us.”

Anyway, Bowers pointed out that the “essential” businesses the governor has allowed to remain open probably make up the vast majority of all of the firms in the state. Yet even with that, he said, the number of cases of the virus has remained small.

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, did not get into the numbers. But she told Capitol Media Services that Bowers is correct in his conclusions that businesses have figured out how to keep employees and customers safe.

“I’m hoping the governor sees it that way, too,” Fann said.

Ducey defended the speed of his changes.

“This is a step forward,” he said. “If you want to say I’ve been too cautious, I accept that.”

The governor said that pace is appropriate when talking about this kind of rapidly spreading virus.

“We understand much more today than we did six weeks ago,” Ducey said. “And I’m hopeful and optimistic as to what can happen over the next several weeks.”

Ducey said he plans to talk to Trump Tuesday about increasing Arizona’s testing now that some of the hot spots in other states have cooled off. 

One of those places the state plans to ramp up testing is in long-term care facilities, which Ducey and Christ have been reluctant in being fully transparent in, refusing to list exactly where cases are being reported. Christ said DHS is working with its lawyers to determine if and when it releases more detailed data.

In the meantime, per an executive order Ducey signed today, relatives of those in those facilities who test positive or whose fellow seniors test positive for COVID-19 will be notified by that facility within 24 hours. If a family chooses to move their loved one out of a facility with cases and inquires about another facility, that facility will be required to say how many COVID-19 cases and deaths it’s recorded.

Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.