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Ducey announces 'stay at home' order will expire even as CV-19 cases increase in Arizona

Pools & gyms get 'green light' to open; Governor encourages major-league sports in state

The 'stay at home' order issued in March by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey will expire at the end of the week, with the governor saying "we're clearly on the other side of this pandemic" even as more coronavirus deaths are reported.

Ducey announced Tuesday that he will not extend the order, which expires Friday, and that restrictions on gyms and pools will end Wednesday. The Republican governor also said he'd welcome major-league sports being played in the state, although not in front of fans.

Ducey issued a new executive order, that continues to impose restrictions on most large gatherings.

"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 conference.

Ducey's moves came as an internal White House report assessed Arizona as a "location to watch" for increased COVID-19 cases, and deaths in the state hit 562, with 20 additional deaths reported Tuesday.

One Tucson-area Democratic lawmaker called Ducey's actions "unacceptable," saying Ducey is "trying to pretend all is well."

Ducey had already lifted restrictions on salons, barbers and restaurants, allowing dine-in operations — with his administration adding bars to the mix as long as they serve some food items, which could be as little as a bag of chips.

"This does not mean a return to normal," Ducey said, several times emphasizing the importance of physical distancing, but he also said, "if you choose, it is safe to go out."

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"Arizonans have sacrificed much to get to where we are today," he said, asking for "continued responsible behavior."

Cara Christ, the director of the state Department of Health Services, said that "We do not know at this time if we have peaked or would have peaked" without social distancing and business closures.

Ducey told reporters that Arizona has a "downward trajectory" in COVID-19 cases, and that the state is "rapidly expanding testing availability."

Ducey acknowledged that "I don't know" if the state has reached the peak of the pandemic during the press conference. He described the number of Arizonans hospitalized for the disease as "steady, if not flat."

"What an Arizonan decides to do is up to them," he told reporters.

But he concluded the sometimes testy questioning by the press — Ducey walked out when being pressed whether his executive orders have allowed for any effective enforcement of social distancing measures —by claiming that "we're on the other side of this pandemic."

"The percentage of positive cases is going down," Ducey said, when asked by reporters whether the "testing blitz" of the last three weeks has increased the number of uninfected people who are being included in the reported testing tallies.

Feds: Arizona has '0 days' of decrease

Ducey's decision to end Arizona's "stay at home" restrictions came as an internal White House pandemic task force report included the state on a list of "locations to watch."

The document, first reported Monday by NBC News, listed states with increasing cases, stable locations, and locations with decreasing cases. Arizona, despite Ducey's claims that cases here are trending down, was not included on the list of states with "sustained decreasing case trajectories."

Instead, the May 7 report determined that Arizona had "0 days" of decrease in confirmed cases — one of just 10 states to have no sustained decrease.

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Phoenix in particular was noted for an increase in cases in the federal report.

11,736 positive cases have been reported, with 356 additional cases reported on Tuesday, the Arizona Department of Health Services said.

In Pima County, there have been 1,623 reported cases, with 136 people dying from the virus.

The Arizona Mirror reported Tuesday that the number of Arizonans hospitalized for coronavirus has not decreased:

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) 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 Christ 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.

In neighboring California, officials in Los Angeles County said Tuesday that they're likely to extend the "stay at home" orders there — which have been more stringent than Arizona's measures — for three months. Some restrictions may gradually be relaxed before August.

Pima County officials said Tuesday that they will not immediately open pools, but are determining how to do so safely, with an announcement of timing expected before the "normal opening" on Memorial Day weekend.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors is holding a special meeting Wednesday morning to review coronavirus response plans, and how government employees will be recalled to their offices after working from home for weeks.

"I'm SO over Gov. Doug Ducey trying to pretend all is well in AZ," state Rep. Andrés Cano posted on Facebook on Tuesday. "Our per-capita #COVID19 testing is the lowest in the nation, contact tracing is JUST beginning, and many of my constituents haven't been able to collect ONE dollar in unemployment benefits for 7 weeks! This is unacceptable. #TheArizonaWay"

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Ducey's loosening of coronavirus measures comes a week after President Donald Trump made his first trip away from the White House since outbreak became widespread in the United States, visiting Phoenix and meeting with the governor and U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, who's seeking to hold onto the seat she was appointed to last year.

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Gov. Ducey speaking at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

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