Ducey

Gov. Doug Ducey announces new, stricter limits on restaurant patrons in an attempt to slow the 10-fold increase in COVID-19 cases since the expiration of the Stay at Home order in May.

Gov. Doug Ducey refused Thursday to reimpose his stay-at-home order even after conceding that his own data shows how effective that was in curbing the spread of COVID-19.

Instead, he is putting new rules in place on how many people can sit in restaurants.

At a press briefing, the governor acknowledged that the number of new cases each day pretty much stayed the same from the time he issued the directive in late March through the middle of May when he allowed it to expire. In fact, he said, the rate remained steady for about two weeks afterwards, the period of incubation and the time to get test results.

Only then was there an explosion.

Ducey's decision to stay the course — at least as far as individual activity — comes as the state added 75 new deaths on Thursday due to the virus, bringing the total now to 2,038. There were also 4,057 new cases of COVID-19; the statewide tally since the outbreak of those affected is now 112,671.

Hospitalizations of those with positive or suspected cases also continues to set records, with the figure on Thursday at 3,471. ICU bed usage was at 861, just 10 off the record set a day earlier.

Overall, the Department of Health Services reported 89 percent of ICU beds in use by patients of all types with 87 percent of in-patient beds in use.

And more than 28 percent of the tests for the virus reported on Thursday came back positive.

"I always look at the different options of where we are and what the possibilities are,'' Ducey said when asked about reimposing that stay-at-home order. "We want to do what would allow us to navigate out of the situation we are in right now.''

Anyway, he said, there's no evidence such a move is needed right now.

The governor said Arizona is seeing "some results'' in the last 10 days since he ordered gyms, fitness centers and bars to once again close. And in the middle of June, he gave local officials the power to mandate the use of masks but declined to make that a statewide requirement.

But Ducey said there's also a reality that Arizonans are going to have to recognize.

"No matter what happens, we're going to be dealing with this for some time,'' he said. That, the governor said, makes education a better alternative than mandates, which is why his but push has been his message that "you're safer at home.''

"So the better way to do this, if possible, to have public buy-in to what is the more responsible decision, not from Mount Olympus or some government entity, but by people in a positive peer-pressure type of situation.''

Still, Ducey is willing to impose some new rules on dine-in services -- rules that he said he got the blessing for from the Arizona Restaurant Association.

On paper, there already are some restrictions that the governor imposed when he once again allowed in-house dining as of May 11. That included requirements to reduce the number of tables and have at least six feet between tables unless there is a Plexiglas divider.

But aides to the governor said that became difficult to police, even to the point that there was no way to know how many tables there had been before.

In this new directive which takes effect at 10 p.m. Saturday, the governor said dine-in facilities are now limited to half the number of people that fire inspectors have listed as capacity. So if the sign on the wall says that occupancy is limited to 80, that means no more than 40 diners, though the order exempts staffers from that cap.

More to the point, Ducey said that both building officials and law enforcement can enforce a hard and fast number based on maximum occupancy as determined by the fire department.

That limit does not affect outdoor dining where the risk of spreading the virus is less. But the rules remain in place for six-foot distancing between tables.

And the latest order makes clear that any area beneath a roof counts as indoor dining, even if the entire side of the restaurant is open to the outdoors.

Finally, the order also has a specific requirement on patrons, requiring them to be wearing a mask any time they are not seated at their table. It also prohibits people from standing around in groups, whether to wait for a table or simply go to the bathroom, and encourages the use of reservations.

The governor denied that in allowing restaurants to remain open for in-house dining even while he is telling people to stay at home when possible is providing Arizonans with a mixed message.

"I prioritized that you are safer at home,'' Ducey said.

"If you're not home, you're safer outside,'' he continued. "If you're not outside, you're safer in a place with fewer people.''

But Ducey said that shuttering restaurants for dine-in services, the way he did before, is not an option.

"What I've said is we want to protect lives and, to the best of our ability, protect livelihoods,'' he said. Ducey said, though, that when he is in doubt "we're going to err on the side of protecting lives.''

One thing that remains to be decided is when schools will resume — and in what form.

The governor last month said schools can begin instruction next month according to their regular schedule, but at this point only online. He set an "aspirational'' start-up date of kids actually being back in seats of Aug. 17.

Earlier this week, the president threatened to cut federal funding for schools that refused to accede to his demand to resume in-person instruction. At the same time, Trump criticized the guidelines put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for safely reopening schools, saying they were too tough and expensive.

Ducey, boasting of his relationship with Trump — the governor said he set the ringer on his cell phone to play "Hail to the Chief'' when he gets a call from the White House — said he shares the president's goal.

"We would love to see our kids back inside a school,'' the governor said. But that, Ducey said, will not be according to the president's schedule.

"It's going to happen when it's safe,'' he said.

Separately, Ducey said the state is making arrangements with Sonora Quest and other private lab companies to sharply increase the number of COVID-19 tests offered. Now running in the 20,000-a-day average, he said it will reach 35,000 a day by the end of July and 50,000 a day by the end of August.

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