COVID-19 Arizona Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey speaks at a news conference about updates to the coronavirus restrictions in Arizona, Tuesday, May 12, 2020, at the Arizona Commerce Authority conference center in Phoenix.
Thomas Hawthorne/The Arizona Republic via AP, Pool

Gov. Doug Ducey put a stay-at-home order in place March 31, when Arizona recorded only 167 cases.

Arizona’s daily COVID-19 case counts are reaching levels not seen since the peak over the summer, yet Gov. Doug Ducey maintains that another shutdown of businesses is not in the state’s plans. 

The number of new cases has steadily climbed in recent days, exceeding 4,000 from Nov. 16 to 18. The last time Arizona’s cases were this high was early in July during a surge that made the state a national hot spot after Ducey relaxed business closings and stay-at-home restrictions. The highest number of new cases in one day was reported on June 29 with 5,450.

The number of new cases measured in the low thousands recently, but the numbers will likely increase in the coming days as it can take up to a week for all daily cases to be added. Health officials have also expressed concerns that the numbers will surge with the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

Despite the uncontrolled spread of the virus, Ducey doubled down on his aversion to closing businesses, telling KTAR News on Tuesday that “the plan is to stay open in a safe and healthy way.” 

He had first signaled this plan during a late September press briefing.

“Arizona’s open. Arizona’s economy is open, Arizona’s educational institutions are open, Arizona’s tourism institutions are open,” Ducey said during the September briefing. The expectation is they are going to remain open.”

Two studies recently published in the scientific journal Nature found that shutdowns have been effective in the US, avoiding millions of new cases and saving lives. 

Seven states have businesses mostly closed. Twelve states (including Arizona, because bars still can’t open if they don’t serve food) are considered “mixed.” 

Three states have put in place either stay-at-home orders or curfews to cut down on people going out. Pima County on Monday introduced a nightly voluntary curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. 

Thirty-five states have mask mandates in place. Despite mounting calls for a statewide mask mandate, the Arizona governor has maintained that local orders are doing enough. 

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 cases in Arizona dropped 75% once cities like Phoenix required that masks be worn in public. 

Ducey Says State Never Shut Down

Ducey instated a stay-at-home order March 31, when Arizona recorded only 167 cases. That order included the closing of all nonessential businesses, like gyms, clothing stores, theaters, and restaurants except for takeout. 

When the order was lifted May 15, the state saw 574 cases. 

On June 29—the same day cases peaked— Ducey closed certain businesses again, including gyms, bars, nightclubs, movie theaters, waterparks, and tubing facilities. 

New cases began dropping after that day, and those businesses were allowed to apply to reopen starting in late August. Bars could only reopen if they also served food

The numbers remained below 1,000 new cases each day until mid-October. They have steadily increased since then, and now are regularly hitting above 4,000 per day. 

Despite these past measures, Ducey maintained Tuesday that “we never have shut down.”

“We’ve had a stay home, stay connected, stay healthy order. We’ve had some targeted measures, and we tried to stay focused on things that would make a difference,” Ducey told KTAR.

The Arizona health department keeps a dashboard updated every Thursday that recommends how businesses should be operating based on community spread of the virus. 

Right now, most counties are “moderate” status, which means bars, clubs, and theaters should be operating at half capacity, while gyms at only 25% capacity. 

But data is trending toward “substantial” risk. The group of at-risk businesses is supposed to close when a county hits that benchmark. Current numbers weren’t immediately available Tuesday as the numbers in the dashboard are all two weeks old to give time for reporting lags to catch up.