Come midnight Friday night, Arizonans will no longer be living under a stay-at-home order.
Gov. Doug Ducey said Tuesday that the state has reached certain milestones which suggest a downward trend in COVID-19 outbreaks, which makes him comfortable in allowing the order, issued in March, to self-destruct at the end of the day on May 15.
Ducey also announced that pools, spas gyms and fitness centers – both public and in hotels and apartments – will also be allowed to open immediately. And, beginning Saturday, major league sports teams are welcome to start playing their games in the state.
But for the moment, the stadiums and arenas will have only the players and staff. No spectators will be allowed, though Ducey said he believes the conditions of the pandemic in Arizona actually are safe enough here to permit people in the stands.
One key figure the governor is using to support his decisions is a decline in the percentage of tests for the virus coming back positive. At one point, the rate was in the 10-percent range; the most recent figures are at 7.5 percent.
Only thing is, the initial tests performed for months in Arizona were only given to those people who showed symptoms of COVID-19. That was done at least in part because of limited testing supplies.
In the past few weeks, however, state Health Director Cara Christ has allowed testing of anyone who thinks they may have been exposed. By definition, that increases the pool of those tested to include more who are less likely to have the virus.
Ducey reacted angrily to questions about whether relying on those test results was a mistake.
“I’m not going to allow you to manipulate the metrics that have been presented,” he said.
The governor acknowledged freedom to travel does not mean that Arizonans will be comfortable returning to their pre-pandemic activities.
But Ducey, who mentioned more than once his desire to reopen the state's stalled economy, made it clear that he believes Arizonans should be making their decisions based on all he and his administration have done to deal with the problem and not other factors – like news reports of about the pandemic.
“I wouldn't (expect) people to feel safe by what they see on the evening news,” he said. “I would like them to feel safe by following the decisions that we've made over the course of time to protect public health, to ramp up what was necessary to disperse these large groups, the information that we have that shows the slow of the spread of this disease, and how we, as a state, working together, on each problem in its turn, have solved it.”
But actually getting people out, back to work and spending their money, he said, is out of his control.
“What an Arizonan decides to do is up to them,” the governor said. “I just want them to have the responsible and accurate information in which to make that decision.”
That still leaves the question of what happens if more people mingling in public results in an uptick in infection. Ducey said the state is more prepared than it was two months ago.
“We're smarter today,” he said.
“We know much more,” he continued. "We know where the vulnerable populations are.”
That category includes those who are 65 and older and with underlying health conditions. Ducey said that's why there will be more testing of both residents as well as staff at nursing homes and other assisted-living facilities.
He had some advice for the most vulnerable.
“The best practice they can have is to stay at home,” he said. “They should avoid returning to work where distancing is not practical and every precaution should be taken.”
He also praised the Arizona residents who have practiced physical distancing.
“Please continue it,” he said.
For businesses, Ducey advised continued social distancing, using protective equipment, doing temperature checks where necessary and contact-tracing.