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Ducey extends Arizona's coronavirus restrictions until May 15

Governor plans 'gradual' reopening for some businesses

With Arizona's restrictions related to COVID-19 set to expire Thursday, Gov. Doug Ducey announced that they will be extended for two weeks. Some regulations will be gradually lifted, he said.

Ducey said during a livestreamed announcement that "the spread has been slowed," but "we're not going to undo this." Describing the decrease in deaths from coronavirus as "hard-fought gains," the governor announced that his stay-at-home order that has closed some businesses will remain in place through at least May 15.

Beginning next Monday, some retail stores that have been ordered closed will be able to voluntarily reopen, either through appointment-only service with limited occupancy, or curbside pickup and delivery. Next Friday, May 8, retail will be able to reopen but must operate under "strict physical distancing requirements," with limited occupancy in stores.

Full document: Executive order continuing COVID-19 restrictions

Ducey added a phrase to his "Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected" slogan, tacking on "Return Stronger" to his description of the state's plan.

"We've earned where we are," he said, but said that the state has not seen enough of a trend in a slower increase in positive reported cases and COVID-19 deaths to lift the restrictions.

Arizonans have been "behaving as a family," Ducey said, recognizing the "mutual sacrifice" of state residents. "Your actions are working; everyone is doing their part."

"We have lost to date 304 lives in this state. We want to make decisions so that we reduce this number," he said. "The virus is not going away. What we're going to do is mitigate the illnesses and reduce the deaths."

As of Wednesday, 304 Arizona residents have died from COVID-19, with more than 7,200 confirmed reported coronavirus cases in the state — numbers that continue to increase daily. The state Department of Health Services announced 18 additional deaths and 254 new cases on Wednesday.

Ducey said that "bars are not under consideration" for reopening soon, but that a plan to lift some restrictions on dine-in restaurant service will be released next week.

Trump to visit Arizona in midst of COVID-19 outbreak

"It's 15 more days," he said. "I'm asking for some patience" from business owners who have chafed under the restrictions, with some railing against Ducey's orders and announcing that they will reopen this weekend despite the governor's executive orders.

"This is an order that is enforceable by law," Ducey said Wednesday. For bar owners in particular, he warned that "you are playing with your liquor license. Don't do that."

"We appreciate the governor's thoughtful and inclusive approach. And though we are not ready to open today, by working together we will get there soon," said Steve Chucri, CEO of the Arizona Restaurant Association.

Physical distancing guidelines "will be with us for the time being," Ducey said, saying that some restrictions will remain in place "for the coming weeks and months."

Ducey said that stores could only retail goods under his updated orders, with no in-person services allowed to be purveyed until further reopening measures are taken.

Tucson's mayor and the chair of the Pima County Board of Supervisors expressed concerns Wednesday, before Ducey's announcement.

Mayor Regina Romero and Pima County Chairman Ramon Valadez said they "are united in our concern on relaxing restrictions and opening up our economy at this time. We encourage Gov. Ducey to give counties and local jurisdictions the flexibility to act at the regional level if he does not want to extend his 'Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected' executive order statewide."

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"The CDC's guidelines on 'Opening Up America Again' clearly state that governors have the discretion to allow local jurisdictions to act at the regional level. The Pima County Health Department has issued guidelines based off CDC recommendations on when it is safe to begin a phased re-opening, including a decline of positive cases over 14 consecutive days, widespread testing, and sufficient PPE for first responders and healthcare workers," the pair of Democrats said in a brief news release.

"We urge great caution in any relaxation," they said.

Wednesday afternoon, Romero said the extension was one of the "difficult but necessary decisions that no elected official relishes making."

"Every day that our local businesses remain closed and our workers without jobs pains me," Romero said. "I am as eager as anyone to begin gradually re-opening our economy, however we must do so in a manner that is safe and consistent with the advice of public health experts."

Valadez said Wednesday evening that "we're not ready to open up," and that he welcomed Ducey's measured approach.

"I'm happy that he kept the order in place," he said. "This has to be done very methodical, very scientifically; we need to protect our community."

Ducey indicated Wednesday afternoon that he would not provide cities with any leeway as he issues reopening guidelines for the state.

Romero and Valadez made their announcement earlier in the day in part to push Ducey to allow more local control if the order were to be lifted, the county chair said.

"If that were lifted, we'd need the authority to take care of our region. We can't open up if all of those indicators are red," Valadez said.

Romero has said that contact between city officials and the governor's office has dwindled from regular updates to nearly none during the past month.

"Given that the executive order pre-empts municipalities from taking action at the local level, I would highly advise Gov. Ducey to seek the input of mayors and local elected officials who are on the front lines of this pandemic," Romero said in an emailed reaction. "I look forward to working with Gov. Ducey to promote the safety and well-being of Arizonans during these difficult times."

Ducey's political allies welcomed Wednesday's announcement.

"The revisions put forth by the governor breathe needed oxygen into our retail sector," said Glenn Hamer, CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry. "Stores that sell essential goods have proven already that they can operate safely, and we look forward to more retailers doing the same."

Some state Democrats also expressed measured approval.

"We know that Arizona's stay-at-home order is not intended to completely stop the spread of COVID19, it is intended to slow the spread so that our healthcare system and our precious frontline healthcare workers are not overwhelmed," House Democratic Leader Charlene Fernandez said in an evening news release. "

The CDC "set out criteria to safely reopen states, including downward trajectories in positive cases and robust testing programs, including antibody testing, as well as plans to protect health and safety of workers and mass transit users. Arizona does not yet meet all of these standards — while our healthcare system appears to have capacity, our curve of infection is not yet bent — so it was a good decision to extend Arizona's stay-at-home order until May 15 with modifications," Fernandez said.

"Gov. Ducey said that Arizona is heading in the right direction, and we certainly hope that is the case, but we need more tests and more decreasing trendlines. We would also like to see more transparency, data and urgency in addressing Arizona's COVID-19 outbreak in areas where it is the most prevalent and potentially deadly including on the Navajo Nation, in our long-term care facilities, and in correctional facilities," said the state lawmaker from Yuma.

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Don't 'reopen too soon' - Romero

Romero also joined with other Arizona civic leaders in warning that "we've seen other communities who have reopened too soon and paid the price in both public health and with a second economic shutdown. We do not want that to happen in Arizona."

Romero and  the mayors of Phoenix and Flagstaff put out a statement outlining their stance that Arizona must follow the guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control before loosening any COVID-19-related restrictions, warning against reopening "too soon."

Noting that Ducey "has not yet offered clear guidance as to whether this order will be extended, modified, or end fully," Romero and Mayors Coral Evans (Flagstaff) and Kate Gallego (Phoenix) said that "state must be able to provide clear data showing that we have achieved a 14-day decline in COVID cases before the economy begins to reopen."

"To achieve a two-week decline in COVID cases will require a significant ramping up of statewide testing. We applaud the governor's recent action to expand testing to a larger segment of the population. The data collected from these tests will be critical in determining our ability to safely reopen the economy without unnecessarily imperiling the lives of our residents," the Democratic trio said.

"Increasing testing and using that data collected to track our progress against CDC guidelines provides the safest route forward as we navigate these unchartered waters," they said.

"We are all eager to reopen the economy as soon as it is safe to do so," the mayors said. "We again ask the governor to work closely with cities on COVID resiliency efforts. Our cities' first responders are tasked with carrying out any statewide executive orders and the more time they have to prepare the better chance we have to keep our police, fire, and residents safe and healthy."

Ducey issued his order on March 30, declaring that Arizona residents should only be in public to conduct essential business or carry out essential activities. Some businesses were forced to close under the order.

The order limited cities, counties and towns from issuing any orders that are more restrictive than the regulations released by Ducey.

Prior to the Republican governor's order, Romero and Pima County had both issued declarations limiting non-essential businesses and advising residents to stay home as much as possible.

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Ariz. Gov. Doug Ducey during a press conference in Tucson on March 17, 2020.

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