Gov. Doug Ducey discusses Thursday the increasing number of Arizonans infected with COVID-19 and how the only way to turn that around is more people staying home and wearing face masks.

Conceding he made a mistake in allowing them to reopen, Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday shuttered all bars in the state for at least the next 30 days.

Ditto gyms, water parks, movie theaters and tubing along Arizona rivers.

And schools won't open until at least Aug. 17, two weeks later than the planned start date for most districts on traditional calendars.

The moves come as Ducey acknowledged the explosion of cases of COVID-19 that started two weeks after his mid-May order reopening the state economy. That two weeks pretty much coincides with the incubation period of the virus when people are exposed.

"We're fixing it'' the governor said when asked if he screwed up in letting bars reopen six weeks ago.

He separately banned gatherings of more than 50 people. This could put a damper on any planned Fourth of July celebrations, though he gave individual cities and towns the power to permit larger crowds, including to watch fireworks, if there are assurances there will be proper social distancing.

Public swimming pools, those run by cities or in hotels or motels, will have to restrict groups in or out of the water to no more than 10. For semi-private pools at apartment complexes and condos, owners will need to post notices about the 10-person limit.

But Ducey, who repeatedly hammers home the message that people are "safer at home,'' refused to reinstate his stay-at-home order. He said it's not necessary.

"The objective today is to slow the spread of this,'' the governor said. And Ducey said he believes the state can get infection levels back to where they were in the middle of May -- when the restrictions were lifted -- without an edict.

"I think Arizonans are smart and have common sense and will demonstrate responsibility,'' he said.

And what if the rate doesn't decline?

"I wake up every day and there is an additional set of problems,'' the governor responded. "And we solve them in their turn.''

State schools chief Kathy Hoffman, in a prepared statement — she was not at the press conference — said she supports the two-week delay in sending students back to class.

"With COVID cases hitting new highs every week, it is clear it is not yet safe for students and teachers to return to school facilities,'' she said, noting that some districts with year-round schedules were set to reopen in the next few weeks.

But Hoffman said that schools are free to start distance learning earlier than Aug. 17 or to delay the start of the academic year.

Less clear, however, is how that affects the requirement for schools to be operating for 180 days to get full state funding. And that mandate was reaffirmed just a week ago when Ducey and Hoffman announced that schools needed to be open and operating for that many days if they want their share of $200 million of additional state aid that will be made available.

Ducey closed all bars and restaurants in March, following decisions already made by the mayors of Tucson and Flagstaff.

He relented in early May, allowing sit-down dining at restaurants. Even then, however, he said that did not apply to bars.

But his administration relented, with the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control permitting any bar to open -- and serve customers -- as long as food was made available. That could include anything from snacks to a food truck parked outside.

The result has been some viral videos of bars packed full of patrons, with few wearing masks or social distancing.

As recently as Friday, Ducey was sticking by his decision to permit operation of bars even as Republican counterparts in Texas and Florida shuttered them. Instead, Ducey said he would crack down on those "bad actors'' who did not follow proper health protocols and work to educate all operators about safe operation.

The governor conceded that didn't work out quite the way he planned, leaving him no option but to close anything licensed as a bar, meaning any establishment where food sales account for less than 40 percent of revenues.

"When necessary, when needed, we will do what it take to get the job done,'' Ducey said.

So why did it take six weeks to figure out that reopening bars was a mistake? The governor said it was all about providing clarity and guidance.

"We do want to open our economy,'' he said. "We just want it to be safe and we want it to be successful.''

It was only when he saw the spike in infections, Ducey said, "we had to adjust this.''

Still, the governor was not willing to say he had any regrets about how he has handled the pandemic.

"No decision has been easy since we declared the emergency on March 11,'' he said.

"I have made what I believe, in my heart of hearts, is the best possible decision to protect people's lives in Arizona and to protect livelihoods in the state,'' the governor continued. "That has been the standard/

As of Monday, there were 1,588 deaths in Arizona and 74,533 confirmed cases.

Those numbers included no new deaths reported and just 625 new cases. But state health officials said that latter figure was because one laboratory had not met the deadline for filing reports.

By contrast, there were 3,858 cases reported the day before.

Chris Minnick, spokesman for the Department of Health Services, said the positive tests will end up on Tuesday's numbers.

As to the deaths, Minnick said that is unrelated to the problem with the laboratories. But he said that figures after weekends often are lower.

Separately, state Health Director Cara Christ said her agency is activating its crisis standard of care plans as hospitals are approaching rated capacity. That requires facilities to address space, staff and resource issues as necessary.

It also says that those approaching capacity must cease all surgeries except those that are essential and do not impair the care of other patients.

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(1) comment

jeff miller

Ducey did nothing to stop the rioters and as a result 2 weeks later covid cases soar. Now he is punishing law abiding business owners because of his incompetence.But political rallies are ok? We need to vote this guy out and get a real leader.

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