TUCSON (CN) — Arizona Governor Doug Ducey relented to pressure from several directions Wednesday when he retracted a statewide ban on local mask requirements amid a sharp spike in cases with some hospitals struggling to find beds for Covid-19 patients.
Everyone in Arizona should make “responsible” decisions to protect the most vulnerable among us, Ducey said in announcing a new executive order that allows local governments to require masks.
“You are most safe at home. If you can’t stay home, you are most safe when you physically distance. And if you do go out, wear a mask,” Ducey said. “It’s the smart thing to do.”
Tucson Mayor Regina Romero, who has lobbied against Ducey’s March 30 order preventing local governments from enacting stricter measures than the state, had already announced in a tweet Wednesday that she would amend the city’s Covid-19 emergency order to require masks in public, despite the state ban.
After the news conference, Romero tweeted that she will sign the proclamation Thursday.
“This will save lives,” the mayor of the city of roughly 1 million tweeted.
Arizona has seen a swift uptick in Covid-19 cases in the weeks since Ducey began allowing businesses to reopen in late April. The state Department of Health Services reported 1,827 new cases and 20 deaths Wednesday, bringing state totals to 40,924 cases and 1,239 deaths.
Dr. Cara Christ, director of the state Department of Health Services, joined Ducey at the news conference. Neither wore a mask, though they were seated several feet apart.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week urged people to consider the relative risk of activities as they return to normal life, Christ said.
Outdoors is less risky than indoors, fewer people is safer than more people, and people to whom you have not been exposed are more risky than those already in your close sphere, she said.
Christ reminded people that asymptomatic people can spread Covid-19.
“People may not look sick, they may not feel sick, and so that’s why it’s so important that everyone wear a cloth face covering when they are out,” she said.
Even the amount of time you spend around other people counts, she said, defining “close contact” as being closer than 6 feet for more than 10 minutes.
Christ said Arizona is working to test every inmate in the state prison system and that prisoners who test positive are being isolated alone or with other inmates who test positive. They are testing all prisoners at one facility each week, she said. A class action about Covid-19 in Arizona prisons was filed this week.
Ducey called Arizona’s trend toward fewer available beds and increasing cases “concerning” and said the state’s testing “blitz” will continue. On Wednesday, the state surpassed 500,000 virus tests, with 7.3% positive, the state health department reported.
Also Wednesday, 83% percent of the state’s intensive-care beds and 85% of normal beds were full, and a statewide “surge line” was allowed hospitals to transfer patients to hospitals that can accommodate them.
Ducey ordered businesses to adopt guidelines from his previous orders, including social distancing, intensified cleaning and monitoring for sickness, this time adding that enforcement would be conducted by a combination of law enforcement and regulatory agencies.
Wednesday’s order came after weeks of pressure from local governments, health care professionals and residents who had urged Ducey to keep his stay-at-home order in effect beyond its April 30 expiration.
Instead, he gradually allowed business and other activity to resume in stages starting with retail on April 29 and ending with dine-in restaurant and bar services May 11. Enforcement should focus first on education promoting best practices to mitigate the virus, and authorities must give violators a chance to comply before taking any action, the order states.
In a video message Monday, Romero tied the use of masks to economic recovery, an area where Ducey said the state’s approach has been a lighter touch toward restrictions.
“The most important thing we can do for our economy to recover is to slow the spread and rebuild consumer confidence,” Romero said. “That will not happen if Covid-19 goes unmitigated, and people do not feel safe out in public.”
Ducey ordered the health department to create a statewide tracking system, including contact tracing, announcing a $37 million allocation for contact tracing with help from 300 National Guard troops, who will be spread among Arizona’s 15 counties to help with contact tracing, said Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire, commander of the Arizona National Guard and director of the state Department of Emergency and Military affairs.
Allowing municipalities to restrict businesses beyond mandatory masks is not off the table, Ducey said during the news conference, but he dodged a question about whether another stay-at-home order might be needed.
He urged Arizonans to stick to guidelines from the CDC.
“Physically distancing, cloth face coverings, washing your hands and staying home when sick sound like such fundamentals, but they really are the biggest difference makers we can have to slow the spread and to contain (the virus),” Ducey said.