AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey answers a question at a news conference attended by U.S. Census Director Steven Dillingham and other state leaders to urge Arizonans to participate in the nation's once-a-decade census population count Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Phoenix.
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

The governor ordered that schools reopen for in-person instruction the day after receiving his first shot of the vaccine.

Gov. Doug Ducey announced Thursday that he was lifting all remaining COVID-19 restrictions on businesses in Arizona—the day after he received his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at the University of Arizona.

The governor’s executive order Thursday lifted all local mask mandates put in place by counties and cities, allowed bars to return to normal operation and eliminated caps on events of more than 50 people. 

Ducey’s announcement came a day after he had his first official press conference in three months to discuss COVID-19 and the rollout of vaccines throughout the state. 

In his announcement on rolling back restrictions Thursday, Ducey referenced 10 weeks of declining COVID-19 cases throughout the state. However, numbers from the Arizona Department of Health Services show only 27% of Arizonans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Thursday.

Dr. Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist who contracts with the City of Phoenix to make public health recommendations related to COVID-19, said Thursday that Ducey’s decision to remove safety measures would undermine all the work being done to lower the number of cases.

“Arizona has been a prime example of state leadership that really didn’t want to deal with COVID,” Popescu tweeted Thursday. 

A spokesperson for the governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday about the timing of the governor’s announcement.

Timeline of Rollbacks

Gov. Ducey received his first dose of the vaccine earlier this month on Tuesday, March 2. 

The next day, he issued an executive order requiring that all Arizona schools offer in-person learning later that month, despite the fact that many schools across the state had already pivoted back to in-person instruction.

Two days later, the governor announced he was lifting capacity limits on bars and restaurants.

On Wednesday, March 24, Ducey received his second dose of the vaccine, the same day that vaccine eligibility opened up to all Arizonans 16 years and older in many parts of the state, including at the state’s five state-run vaccination sites.

Ducey rolled back the mask mandates and all remaining COVID-19 restrictions on businesses the next day. 

The governor has maintained throughout the pandemic that the state needed to be mindful of keeping the economy afloat while also balancing public health needs.

On Thursday, Ducey thanked local leaders and businesses for adhering to public health and safety measures throughout the pandemic.

“Today we are in a different spot, and we are also a lot smarter,” he said in a statement. “I’m confident Arizona’s businesses and citizens will continue to act responsibly as we gradually get back to normal.”

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego criticized Ducey’s decision in a tweet Thursday, saying that the move contradicted the advice of healthcare professionals in how best to manage the pandemic.

Infectious-disease experts have said it’s still too soon for states to ease up on restrictions, like mask mandates, based on the numbers of COVID-19 cases and the rate of vaccinations.

As of Thursday, 1.9 million Arizonans had received at least one dose of the vaccine.

“To abandon precautions now is like spiking the ball on the 5-yard line,” Gallego tweeted. “The governor clearly cares a lot less about the people of Arizona than his political future.”

The Countdown: Tracking the Vaccine Rollout and the End of COVID