Ducey orders ‘enhanced physical distancing’ to slow COVID-19 spread




Governor Doug Ducey speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech hosted by Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center on Aug 31, 2016. Photo courtesy Gage Skidmore

Gov. Doug Ducey has issued an executive order implementing “enhanced physical distancing” to slow the spread of COVID-19, rejecting the stricter and more expansive shelter-in-place orders that other states have used. 

“When you use words like ‘shelter in place,’ that’s what happens during a nuclear attack. That’s what happens when there’s an active shooter. We want people to stay at home. It will have the same type of effect,” Ducey said at a press conference on Monday where he announced the order.

Ducey also emphasized that people can still go outside, and he urged Arizonans to go outside and stay active, as long as they keep their distance from others.

“We do not want people to feel trapped or isolated in their homes. The weather is beautiful right now. Find a way to get out and enjoy it with physical distancing,” he said.

The order doesn’t prohibit gatherings of more than ten people, as other states have done. And it doesn’t require people to prove or justify their activities. 

The order, dubbed “Stay home, stay health, stay connected,” states that Arizonans are only to leave their homes to go to work, to get food, medicine and other supplies, or to engage in a variety of “essential activities” prescribed by another executive order that Ducey issued last week

It also mandates that Arizonans do their best to stay at least six feet from others while outside of their home, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has recommended.

Businesses that are deemed essential services that remain open must implement “social distancing” and sanitation requirements, in accordance with federal and state guidelines. Any business that isn’t considered essential under Ducey’s order – an extensive list that includes golf courses and beauty salons, along with things like grocery stores, health care facilities, gas stations, laundry facilities and a host of others – may still provide any services that don’t require in-person, on-site transactions.

Violators can be charged with a class one misdemeanor, but must be given an opportunity to comply before being charged.

Homeless people are exempted from the new requirements, but “are strongly urged to obtain shelter as soon as possible and to the maximum extent practicable.” It also permits victims of domestic violence and others with unsafe situations at home to leave their residences and find new places to stay.

The order also prohibits cities from shutting down any businesses that are deemed essential under the governor’s previous executive order. Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Tucson Mayor Regina Romero were quick to criticize Ducey for not narrowing his list of essential services.

“This order is insufficient if he does not narrow his list of “essential” services. Essential services during #COVID19 are not golf and beauty salons. They are first responders, grocers, pharmacists, and few others,” Gallego wrote on Twitter.

Ducey had thus far resisted calls for a stay-at-home order, arguing that previously enacted measures shutting down dine-in restaurants, bars, gyms and theaters in counties with confirmed coronavirus infections – as of Sunday, all 15 counties had at least one case – were sufficient. 

The governor urged Arizonans to stay connected through whatever means possible, such as phone calls and videoconferencing. 

“Let’s use the technologies that we have. Let’s Facetime people. I’ve got a 96-year-old grandmother that lives in this state,” he said. “My father-in-law is 93 years old. We’ve been doing a lot of phone calls, a lot of Facetiming.”

Earlier in the day, the Arizona Department of Health Services updated its figures on COVID-19 infections, deaths and tests. As of Monday morning, Arizona had 1,157 confirmed cases and 20 deaths, up from 919 infections and 17 deaths on Sunday. And 16,759 Arizonans had been tested for COVID-19, with 6% testing positive.

Ducey said his order was made at the urging of Dr. Cara Christ, the director of the Arizona Department of Health Services. Christ said her recommendation was based on her agency’s most recent epidemiological analysis. 

“I don’t make this recommendation lightly. As I’ve said before, I have significant concerns about the public health impacts that a prolonged physical distancing strategy could have on the mental health of Arizonans,” Christ said at Monday’s press briefing. “The financial ramifications to individuals and businesses, and the fear and the anxiety caused by COVID-19 can also have a negative impact on our community’s mental health.”

Ducey’s move follows an announcement on Sunday that the U.S. Center for Disease Control that it was extending its COVID-19 social distancing recommendations, which had been originally slated to expire on April 13, through April 30. CDC’s announcement also prompted Ducey and state schools Superintendent Kathy Hoffman to extend the closure of Arizona’s K-12 schools through the end of the school year. 

Ducey on Monday also announced steps aimed at protecting residential renters and small businesses from evictions and foreclosures for at least 60 days.

Arizona now joins 30 other states that have issued statewide stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders in response to the pandemic. Another 13 states have enacted partial orders, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issuing a stay-at-home order for the southern part of his state on Monday.

According to Johns Hopkins University, the United States now has about 157,000 confirmed coronavirus infections, with more than 2,800 deaths. Globally there have been more than 770,000 confirmed cases and about 37,000 deaths.

How you can tell if you might be ill

Symptoms of COVID-19 resemble that of the flu. So, if you’re experiencing coughing, fever, difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath, you should consider getting checked out. Call your primary care physician or visit an urgent care center or emergency room — but call the health care provider before you go so they can be prepared for your arrival. The Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center is taking COVID-19 calls: 1-844-542-8201

How COVID-19 spreads

  • Through the air by coughing or sneezing
  • Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it

How to prevent spreading COVID-19

  • Cover coughs or sneezes with your elbow. Don’t use your hands.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Clean surfaces frequently, including counter tops, light switches, cell phones, remotes, and other frequently touched items.
  • Contain: If you are sick, stay home until you are feeling better. Once symptoms are gone experts recommend staying home an additional 72 hours.

***UPDATED: This story has been updated to include comments from Ducey and Cara Christ.