Az eviction halt extended through October; Ducey won't order statewide CV-19 masks
While a leaked internal White House report says Arizona is in the "red zone" for coronavirus cases, Gov. Doug Ducey took no further steps to impose recommended restrictions while announcing an extension of a moratorium on residential evictions Thursday.
Ducey issued an executive order delaying many evictions for renters who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. His previous order was due to expire next week, and housing advocates have said thousands of Arizonans could have been left homeless without lengthening the moratorium.
The governor also announced more funding for renters, and a new program to help landlords avoid foreclosures if their tenants are affected. But critics of Arizona's eviction-prevention programs have pointed out that very little money has been distributed across the state.
Trump administration report recommends more restrictions
As published by TucsonSentinel.com on Thursday, a document prepared for the White House Coronavirus Task Force but not publicized suggests more than a dozen states — including Arizona — should revert to more stringent protective measures, limiting social gatherings to 10 people or fewer, closing bars and gyms and asking residents to wear masks at all times.
Ducey did not take any action to put those recommendations into place this week, but told Arizonans "there's no end in sight" to the coronavirus outbreak in the state.
There are now 134,613 Arizonans with documented COVID-19 infections, state officials reported Thursday. 2,492 state residents have died of the disease. 3,259 new cases were reported Thursday morning, with 58 deaths added to the total. There are more than 12,600 reported cases in Pima County, with 360 residents who have died from coronavirus — including 13 new deaths reported Thursday.
Related: Arizona in COVID-19 'red zone' with 17 other states, internal White House report says
The Trump administration internal document, dated July 14 and obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, says 18 states are in the “red zone” for COVID-19 cases, meaning they had more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population last week. Eleven states are in the “red zone” for test positivity, meaning more than 10 percent of diagnostic test results came back positive.
In Arizona, the report notes that nearly every county and locality in the state are in the red zone, including Pima County and both Tucson and Nogales.
The White House report recommended that several policies be adopted by Arizona counties that are in the "red zone," including that officials tell the residents to "reduce public interactions" to 25 percent of "normal activity," and advising wearing masks "at all times outside the home."
Among the other recommendations are:
Ducey last month lifted his order barring any local governments from mandating that face masks be worn in public, but has refused to sign a statewide order.
"Nearly 90 percent of our state now has a local mask ordinance," he said Thursday. "I want to say 'thank you' not only to the (local) leaders but to the citizens."
Despite his not imposing a mask mandate or returning to his loose "stay at home" order from this spring, Ducey said Thursday that "there can be no substitute for things like masking up in Arizona."
Saying that the limits on restaurant dining, closure of gyms and bars, and local mask requirements are Arizona's "new normal for the foreseeable future," Ducey said he's asking "people to get their heads around that."
Document: Ducey executive order: Eviction moratorium extended to Oct. 31
Ducey spent about 30 minutes pointing out to reporters that week-over-week comparative data shows "new cases are mostly the same," despite Arizona recently becoming a global hot spot of the coronavirus outbreak.
"We've made some changes in the past three weeks and this is the first good news we've had since," he said.
"Wear a mask, stay at home," Ducey said, telling Arizonans to "take these as patriotic duties."
Evictions pushed back
While some evictions have been taking place, including in Pima County, despite the governor's declaring a halt to most, Ducey on Thursday extended the moratorium on evicting many renters from their homes if they have COVID-19-related difficulties in paying rent.
But, Ducey also established new requirements that tenants take part in rental assistance programs if they cannot fulfill the terms of their leases.
From Ducey's office:
To qualify, eligible renters will need to notify their landlord or property owner of a hardship of COVID-19 in writing and request a payment plan. After August 21, renters will need to provide their landlord or property owner a copy of their completed pending application for rental assistance through a state, city, county or nonprofit program.
Relief For Renters
Governor Ducey in March announced $5 million to help Arizonans struggling to make rent due to COVID-19. These dollars were included as part of a Rental Eviction Prevention Assistance Program launched by the Arizona Department of Housing. To date, the program has provided nearly 1,200 households with $1.1 million dollars worth of rental assistance.
As part of today’s announcement, the Governor announced an additional $650,000 in new funding for community action agencies to improve staffing and administration of rental assistance programs to get resources out to families and individuals faster. In total, state and local governments have made more than $80 million available to assist renters and prevent homelessness.
Earlier this week, the Governor announced a plan to distribute nearly $6 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) program to organizations that support Arizonans in need, combat homelessness, and help ensure families and individuals keep a roof over their heads. The funding will support counseling services, guidance on independent living, rental assistance and as well as homeless shelters throughout the state.
Document: COVID & evictions in Arizona: FAQ for landlords and renters
In addition, the Arizona Department of Housing is providing Chicanos Por La Causa $250,000 for the organization's Statewide Housing Program, which finds housing for homeless individuals. The program supports rental assistance and helps at-risk and underserved populations secure and maintain affordable, stable housing. These funds will come from the Crisis Contingency and Safety Net Fund.
The Governor in May announced $300,000 from the Crisis Contingency and Safety Net Fund to organizations providing Arizonans in need with rental assistance, telehealth and transportation to health services. The funding recipients, St. Vincent de Paul and Open Hearts, use the funding to help vulnerable populations avoid eviction and access services needed to preserve health.
Foreclosure Prevention Program
The Governor also announced today $5 million to launch the Foreclosure Prevention Program. The program provides financial assistance to individuals who rely on income from tenants to help them avoid foreclosure.
Calls seeking comment from Ducey’s office and the Arizona Department of Health Services seeking comment on the White House report were not returned Friday.
But the executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association said it is important that people see the numbers in the report. Will Humble said that the percentage of positive tests, in particular, gives a clearer picture of the situation.
“I think that’s a really important metric because so often when people go to the dashboard, they look at the number of new cases per day but in large part that depends on the number of samples that were returned from the lab that day,” Humble said. “The percent positive gives you a much clearer picture of what the level of community spread is relative to the amount of testing that is available in the community.”
Arizona was one of 18 states in the “red zone” for new cases, along with Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.
Arizona and 10 other states – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas and Washington – were in the red zone for positive test results.
Twelve of Arizona’s 15 counties were also in the red zone in the White House report, with only Apache, Gila and Yavapai counties in the yellow zone.
The document recommends that red zone jurisdictions take steps that include mandating masks in public, closing bars and gyms, limiting restaurants to 25% of dine-in capacity and encouraging people who participate in large gatherings to get tested, among other measures.
Ducey last week cut restaurants back to 50% capacity, but he has resisted calls to impose a statewide requirement for masks, which are being required by many local governments in the state.
When contacted, a spokesman in Ducey’s office highlighted the expanded round of testing that launched Friday. The federally supported surge testing will continue for the next two weeks at South Mountain Park, 10919 S. Central Avenue, and Maryvale High School, 3415 N 59th Ave, both in Phoenix.
Appointments for the free tests have to be made, at AZHealth.gov/SurgeTesting, and everyone who gets tested will also receive five cloth face masks. The goal is to offer 2,500 tests per day at each site, part of an ambitious plan to boost testing to 35,000 a day by the end of July.
“The governors and the health directors have a goal of having the ability to test 35,000 samples a day by the end of July, which is now just two weeks away,” Humble said. “So in order for that to happen they are going to need a lot more analytic capacity as well as better supply chain for the tests.”
As of Friday, July 17, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 138,523 cases of COVID-19 and 2,583 deaths in the state. It said 969,837 tests for COVID-19 have been completed in public and private labs in Arizona, and 12.2% of tests have come back positive for the virus that causes the disease.
Center for Public Integrity journalist Liz Essley Whyte contributed national reporting to this story. Cronkite News reporter Kelsea Miller also contributed to this story.