Gyms and public pools will be allowed to reopen immediately and Gov. Doug Ducey gave the green light for professional sports to resume in Arizona – though without fans – and will let his broad stay-at-home order expire Friday.
In place of that order, which Ducey enacted on March 30, Arizonans will be subject to a new order that will continue some restrictions, such as prohibitions on large gatherings and the mandatory closure of bars and movie theaters, while lifting others that the governor imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“This is a green light to continue going forward on the way out of this pandemic. Now, this is not a green light to speed. This is a green light to proceed. And we’re going to proceed with caution,” Ducey said at a press briefing on Tuesday.
The governor had already permitted restaurants to resume dine-in service, non-essential retail businesses to reopen, health care providers to provide elective medical services, and barbers and salons to reopen.
As he did last week when he lifted restrictions on barbers, salons and restaurants, Ducey emphasized that Arizona has hit several key metrics that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control established to provide guidelines to states on when and how much they should reopen. He pointed to a consistent decrease in reports of flu-like and COVID-like illnesses, a decrease in the percentage of tests that come back positive for the virus, and sufficient hospital capacity to ensure that they don’t have to resort to crisis care.
“I showed a green light today, and it’s a green light to continue to go in the right direction. We are clearly on the other side of this pandemic,” Ducey said.
However, later in the briefing, Ducey acknowledged that he didn’t know if COVID-19 infections had peaked in Arizona, even as he was lifting many of the restrictions aimed at reducing spread of the illness.
Ducey said that people have the responsibility to gauge the risk of going in public, socializing and patronizing businesses that had been closed because of the pandemic.
“What an Arizonan decides to do is up to them,” he said.
According to data from the Arizona Department of Health Services, the number of total daily hospitalizations due to COVID-19 has remained high since late April, when they surpassed 700 for the first time and have remained above that threshold since. As of Monday, 765 Arizonans were hospitalized with the coronavirus, the second highest total since the outbreak began.
Twenty deaths were reported to the department for Monday, as well, among the higher single-day totals Arizona has seen due to COVID-19. Many coronavirus deaths aren’t reported in real time, so daily totals aren’t always an accurate reflection of the previous day’s count.
Ducey wasn’t troubled by the hospitalization numbers, which he described as “steady, if not flat.” And he said many of the deaths Arizona is seeing are among people who are more vulnerable to the virus.
“We’re going to mourn every death in this state. We’re going to do everything we can do so that we don’t lose another individual to COVID-19. We also know that so many of the people that we are losing are in this vulnerable category and at high risk with multiple systems oftentimes and over the age of 65,” Ducey said.
A new study by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicted that Arizona will have the greatest increase in deaths of any state in the country. The study projected that Arizona will see a total of 2,987 deaths from COVID-19, a 541-percent increase. As of Tuesday morning, 562 deaths from the coronavirus had been reported in Arizona.
Ducey and Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said the new executive order will also focus heavily on long-term care facilities, where the state has seen a substantial number of COVID-19 cases. Christ said the state plans to test all residents and staff at those facilities, as per CDC guidelines.
Christ said the state will also seek to increase testing capacity for prison inmates and correctional officers.
Under the terms of the new executive order, businesses that open must implement physical distancing and other health policies based on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Department of Labor and Arizona Department of Health Services. Ducey praised restaurants and other businesses that have recently reopened, along with Arizonans in general, for largely adhering to those guidelines since the crisis began in March.
But questions remain about whether some businesses are flouting those rules and whether anyone is enforcing them. A widely publicized photo showed a packed crowd at CASA in Tempe.
Ducey insisted that the safety restrictions he’s imposed on restaurants are largely being followed. He noted that the CASA photo showed one restaurant in a college town on the night of virtual graduation, and said Tempe police were able to remedy the situation.
But Ducey struggled to explain who was enforcing these guidelines, though he insisted that they are being enforced.
Major League Baseball suspended the start of its 2020 season, which was scheduled to begin on March 26, and cut short spring training, much of which takes place in Arizona. The decision followed suspensions of other professional sports seasons that were already underway, including the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League.
In April, ESPN reported that Major League Baseball and its players’ union were discussing a possible plan to hold the entire 2020 season in Arizona, and team owners this week approved a plan to start a shortened season in July, with teams playing in their home ballparks.
Ducey said he’s spoken with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred about the possibility of resuming baseball in Arizona.
“He knows that baseball of course is welcome and loved in the state of Arizona. We are the home of spring training for Major League Baseball and we’d be more than happy to host the season,” Ducey said.
***UPDATED: This story has been updated to include additional information.