Capitol Media Services
and Justin Sayers
and Cathalena E. Burch
Facing increased pressure, Gov. Doug Ducey activated the National Guard to restock grocery store shelves, halted all elective surgeries and closed all bars, gyms and movie theaters in any county with confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The order issued late Thursday also bars dine-in service in restaurants in the same counties by close of business on Friday, March 20. But Ducey said restaurants will be able to deliver alcoholic drinks to patrons who get food to go.
The governor is also extending the expiration date of all driver’s licenses, to ensure that anyone 65 and older does not have to visit a Motor Vehicle Division office for a renewal.
In separate action, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich asked banks and other lenders to provide “temporary relief and economic certainty to their consumers.”
That includes waiving mortgage and auto loan payments for 90 days and ceasing evictions for the same period. It also asks lending institutions to cease charging late fees and to halt reporting late payments to credit bureaus, also for 90 days.
But, unlike Ducey’s order, Brnovich’s is simply a request, with no force of law.
The moves came just a day after Ducey said he saw no reason to enact restrictions on bars and restaurants to protect public health. Instead, Ducey had said he was content with asking Arizonans to voluntarily comply with federal guidance not to gather with more than 10 people at any one time.
He specifically rejected the idea of a statewide closure of places where the public gathers, even on the heels of similar announcements by several cities, including Tucson and Phoenix, and some counties.
By Thursday, the Republican governor’s thinking had changed. In a news release, Ducey said countywide closures “ensure one consistent policy across jurisdictions.” He said it’s not a change of mind but simply “updated guidance.”
The order contains provisions designed to aid businesses affected by his action.
One is allowing restaurants to deliver alcoholic beverages, but only with the purchase of food. It also allows manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers to buy back items sold to restaurants, bars and clubs, as long as they are unopened.
The decision to call out the National Guard also is a reversal of the governor’s prior stance.
Ducey had previously addressed the issue of supply hoarding by urging people to buy just what they need. He said he had been assured by executives of grocery chains that supplies would be replenished.
Since that time, however, Arizona markets have been unable to catch up with the demands of shoppers, resulting in rows of vacant shelves and cooler cases. That came even with additional hiring and reducing the number of hours stores are open to the public to devote available staff to stocking shelves.
Now, Ducey said, the troops will help not just groceries but also food banks restock shelves.
Ducey’s order banning elective surgery, in some ways, mirrors what already was happening at many hospitals.
He said he wants to “free up medical resources and maintain the capacity for hospitals and providers to continue offering vital services.”
Ducey also said restrictions on nonessential surgery will help keep critical personal protective equipment available for use in the fight against the virus.
The provision on driver’s licenses deals with the fact that they expire automatically at age 65. At that point, motorists must renew every five years, with a vision test each time.
Ducey said allowing older people to drive on expired licenses “protects seniors and vulnerable Arizonans from community spread and supports efforts to social distance.” He also is applying the policy to those with commercial driver’s licenses, “ensuring that drivers stay on the road, not in line at MVDs.”
Ducey’s reticence to act was criticized this week in tweets from Democratic U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, calling on him to shutter bars and restaurants to control spread of the virus.
At last count Arizona had 45 known, confirmed COVID-19 cases, with the latest in Yavapai County. There are 22 in Maricopa County, 10 in Pinal, seven in Pima, three in Navajo and one each in Coconino and Graham counties.
After Ducey made his announcement Thursday, Sinema said he’s on the right track but hasn’t gone far enough. “This order should apply throughout Arizona,” Sinema tweeted.
Brnovich, in his letter to lenders, called this an “unprecedented health emergency.”
“Arizonans who are not working or have had their hours dramatically reduced due to this public health crisis need to know that they will have a roof over their heads and the ability to provide for their families during this difficult time,” the Republican attorney general wrote.
Pima County had acted earlier in day
Ducey’s decision came hours after Pima County and the region’s two largest towns had joined the city of Tucson in ordering the closure of some businesses, effectively limiting the bulk of the region’s restaurants to drive-thru and pickup only, and closing the majority of its bars and gyms.
The extended limitations were set Thursday morning during an emergency meeting of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, followed by declarations by the mayors of Oro Valley and Marana within a few hours. The proclamations are in effect through the end of the month. It remains unclear how much of the restrictions are superseded by the governor’s actions.
“Let’s be very clear, this is going to cause real pain in our community and the board knows that this will put people out of work,” Pima County Supervisors Chairman Richard Elías, a Democrat, said in a prepared statement. “That is very painful to me personally, but I know it is the right thing to do. We took these actions to protect the public health. We all take seriously the repercussions of our actions today.”
The county’s measure, which passed on a party-line 3-2 vote, is nearly identical to Tucson’s, issued earlier in the week by Mayor Regina Romero for the city of about 530,000 residents.
It prohibits the on-site consumption of food and drink at bars and eateries and also calls for the closure of fitness centers, movie theaters, bingo halls, performance venues and similar public gathering sites. Restaurants can still serve takeout meals. Pharmacies, grocery stores, banks and other essential services are not affected.
Any person who violates the order can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor, with further violations constituting separate offenses. County officials said enforcement will be handled either voluntarily, through reports of violators, or from notices from the county’s restaurant inspectors, who will continue to work.
During the meeting, Supervisor Ramon Valadez, a Democrat who voted in favor, acknowledged concern for the more than 4,000 food establishments in the county’s town, city and unincorporated areas, saying the order is “going to hurt business.”
As part of the motion, Valadez successfully lobbied for a “Pima Serves Plan” of how the county can help in some regards during the closures, including encouraging servers to be moved to other jobs, creating a website listing ways the community can help and designating a go-to person who can speak with those who are concerned about paying rent.
“We understand there’s going to be damage, so we are going to mitigate that hurt just a little bit,” he said.
Republicans Steve Christy and Ally Miller voted against the measure, acknowledging the seriousness of the virus, but expressing concern about how the order would affect businesses.
Miller said before the vote that the board needed to “weigh the economic impact against the probability of transmission.” The county reported seven known cases of COVID-19 as of Thursday morning, with four patients remaining hospitalized and one fully recovered.
“The thing that really concerns me is the panic that is setting in. If we implement these draconian measures, how long before these businesses are forced into bankruptcy? How long before these people can’t pay their rent?” Miller said. “My concern is that it’s not going to take long before we’re in a real mess. How many years is it going to take to recover from this?”
Dr. Bob England, director of the Pima County Health Department, was asked during the meeting how long he expects restrictions such as social distancing should remain in place. England said health officials have been guessing six to 12 weeks, with the worst-case scenario being more than a year.
England said county officials have met with restaurant industry representatives and were in the process of developing guidelines to create as much social distancing as possible, such as by restricting dining to outdoor patios, distancing people between tables to avoid droplet spread, and disinfecting tables between patrons.
He acknowledged those “wouldn’t have been perfect but “would have allowed some (businesses) to remain open.”
After the county’s decision, both Oro Valley Mayor Joe Winfield and Marana Mayor Ed Honea, who both previously encouraged businesses to limit to drive-thru and takeout, amended their emergency proclamations to fall in line with the city and county for their communities of roughly 44,000 each.
Honea’s emergency declaration goes a step further than the county and city: He also is ordering all beauty salons, barbershops and nail salons closed until the end of the month.
Prior to the directives of the governor, South Tucson and Sahuarita had planned to keep restaurants operating under social-distancing guidelines recommended by the county Health Department. The two towns make up roughly 35,000 people.
But both South Tucson City Manager John Vidaurri and Sahuarita Mayor Tom Murphy said they would change those plans should other directives come from the state, which Ducey later issued.
In this Series
Tucson-area coronavirus coverage from January to March: Nearly 1,300 cases in Arizona, stay-at-home order
- 248 updates