Ducey: Businesses to remain closed, but elective surgeries can resume

ducey covid-19 presser
Gov. Doug Ducey gives an update on the COVID-19 pandemic response during an April 22, 2020, press conference at the Arizona Commerce Authority in Phoenix. Photo by Rob Schumacher/Arizona Republic & USA Today Network | Pool photo

For the first time since the COVID-19 crisis exploded in the United States, Gov. Doug Ducey lifted one of the measures he imposed to slow the spread of the virus, authorizing hospitals to resume elective surgeries.

But Ducey said the state will stay the course otherwise, and he is not prepared to lift a stay-at-home order that forced the closure of many businesses in Arizona in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

At a press conference Wednesday, Ducey said he issued an executive order allowing hospitals and out-patient facilities that have sufficient capacity and bed space to begin performing elective surgeries again on May 1. The hospital industry last week asked for Ducey to lift his ban, which has imposed great financial hardships on hospitals that have shifted their focus to COVID-19 while losing business money due to a lack of other patients.

“It will be a slight tick up on the dimmer switch for our economy,” Ducey said.

Banner Health on Monday announced that it was implementing pay cuts and furloughs for some employees. The Mayo Clinic last month announced similar measures.

The governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected” order, which closes nonessential businesses and mandates that individuals practice social distancing while out in public, expires on April 30. Ducey said he has three options: Let it expire, extend it in its current form or modify it to reflect changing conditions. He said he’ll revisit the issue on May 1.

Ducey acknowledged the damage that COVID-19 and the measures he took to slow its spread have done to Arizona’s economy, and said he took those steps only reluctantly. But they have worked, he said, and it didn’t make sense to sacrifice the gains Arizona has made in the fight against the coronavirus by lifting them too quickly.

“We have come a long way in a short period of time as a state. It’s been by no lack of sacrifice and effort from our citizens. And we do not want to lose that ground as we make additional decisions going forward,” he said.

Ducey’s decision on the stay-at-home order comes after a weekend of protests demanding that he lift his order and “reopen” the state’s economy. 

Protesters circled the Capitol in about 100 cars on Sunday at a protest dubbed Operation Gridlock Arizona, which was modeled on a similar protest in Michigan. Hundreds more descended on the Capitol on foot Monday, demanding that the governor lift his restrictive measures.

As of Wednesday morning, Arizona had confirmed 5,459 cases of COVID-19 with 229 confirmed deaths, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. For the second day in a row, Arizona reported 21 deaths from the coronavirus, the second-highest single-day total since the pandemic began.

Arizona has tested 56,601 people for COVID-19 infections. Ducey said the state needs more of those diagnostic tests, and touted a recent announcement that the University of Arizona will produce a quarter million tests for COVID-19 antibodies.