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'Testing blitz' set in Arizona as Ducey weighs lifting coronavirus restrictions
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'Testing blitz' set in Arizona as Ducey weighs lifting coronavirus restrictions

From the April's Tucson-area coronavirus coverage: 1,200+ Pima County cases, stay-home order extended series
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PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey announced a “blitz” to test up to 60,000 Arizonans for COVID-19 in the next three weekends.

The goal is to test 10,000 to 20,000 people each Saturday, beginning May 2, through various drive-thru and on-site testing locations, including at least two in Tucson.

The move comes as Ducey has to decide this week whether his executive orders limiting individual and business activity due to the pandemic are worth the continued harm to the Arizona economy.

The number of Arizonans who have lost their jobs as a result of the virus are in the half-million range.

But Arizona did get some good news, with the state Health Department saying Monday was the first day in more than a month that no COVID-19 deaths were reported.

Questions remain, however, about how extensive the virus is in Arizona and whether, without comprehensive data, it is premature to reopen segments of the state economy. The Health Department reported Monday that another 1,732 people had been tested. That brings the overall tally in the state to 66,543.

That, however, is just 0.9% of the state’s population. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that only Virginia has a per capita testing rate as low.

There have been some moves to improve that, even before Monday’s “blitz” announcement, including an order from state Health Director Cara Christ last week allowing those who believe they have been exposed to COVID-19 to get tested.

“Arizona has placed an emphasis on ramping up testing, but we need more,” Ducey said in a prepared statement.

He said the expanded testing will “provide us with better data to develop Arizona specific solutions and re-energize our economy.”

Gubernatorial press aide Patrick Ptak said Ducey’s decision on restrictions will be based on more than test results. “Other data is also important, like whether our hospitals are prepared,” he said.

The governor’s month-old stay-home order, telling people not to go out unless engaged in an essential activity, self-destructs at 11:59 p.m. Thursday night unless he renews it.

Given Ducey’s cautious approach to enacting the order in the first place — at least two dozen other governors had acted before Arizona’s March 31 implementation — it isn’t considered likely he will allow it to simply expire.

Instead, Ducey has indicated any change is likely to be a loosening.

It won’t matter much, at least to the Arizona economy, unless Ducey also alters his list of “essential” business and services — and the more important list of what are not and must remain shuttered.

In that case, there is no deadline for Ducey to act as the order on essential businesses remains in effect until he alters or rescinds it.

The governor’s orders already permit people to go out to shop at essential businesses.

So easing his order to let people go out won’t mean much if there’s no new places for them to go, whether to shop, dine, drink or have a picnic in the park.

A stepped approach, providing additional opportunities for people to shop — with some controls — is the course being urged by Glenn Hamer, chief executive of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a close political ally to Ducey.

“As we thaw out parts of the economy that have been frozen, we need to do that safely,” Hamer said.

He advises starting by opening up smaller retail operations with “appropriate social distancing” and other safety protocols.

But that is too slow for some Arizonans who want Ducey to immediately scrap both his stay-home and essential services orders.

Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa, said he does not dispute that the orders appear to have worked in terms of fewer infections and “flattening the curve” to preserve hospital beds.

“The question is, to what extent?” he asked. “How long do we wait to get our economy back? I think the majority of the people down here feel like the time has come, that the main point of danger has passed, that it’s time to reopen.”

Hamer said the bottom line — and the message he wants the governor to have — is that businesses want to reopen.

“Arizonans want to work,” he said.

“We want to see people go back to work. And we want to see our economy fully restored.”

Still, he said, it has to be done in a prudent and safe fashion.

“And it’s going to be done in phases,” Hamer said.

He said there are models that work.

“Protocols are going to have to be in place that limit traffic,” Hamer said.

That’s already being done in many grocery, home improvement and department stores, with a new customer being let in when one leaves.

That’s even more important as the rules for who can open are broadened, Hamer said.

“We can’t have a gazillion people in a small store when you have a pandemic without effective therapeutics and good treatment,” Hamer said.

He said there are also likely to be other mandates and suggestions, ranging from sheets of plastic separating customers from cashiers, to tape lines on the floor marking social distance for those waiting in line.

All this presumes that even if Ducey loosens the restrictions, Arizonans will be willing to go out.

“Consumer confidence is the $64,000 question,” Hamer said.

“It’s very important for the governor’s actions to continue to be consistent with the comfort level of the citizens.”

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