No statewide mask mandate announced as Gov. Ducey holds first COVID-19 news conference since October

Gov. Doug Ducey on Nov. 18 warned that COVID-19 cases in Arizona are increasing at an alarming rate but stopped short of implementing any major new virus prevention restrictions or imposing a statewide mask mandate — despite pressure from Democratic state and local officials.

“I want people to wear masks. Masks work,” Ducey said, adding that 90% of the state already has mask mandates imposed by county and local officials.

Ducey said the state health department will issue an emergency order for schools to require masks on campuses and buses. State schools chief Kathy Hoffman, a Democrat, has pushed the governor for a statewide mask mandate, as has Democratic Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego.

But he said a statewide mandate was not necessary.

“I think the steps that we’ve put in place, the participation that we have, has got the maximum amount of compliance with Arizonans wearing a mask,” Ducey said. “In addition, it’s nearly impossible to participate in our economy anywhere without wearing a mask.”

He noted that local jurisdictions that cover 90% of the state’s population have mandates in place, and state orders require masks in gyms and some other businesses.

"We have seen a lot of success with it at the local level, where there is local buy-in and local leadership," said Gov. Ducey. "What I want to avoid is some of the division and politics that have happened around this issue, so, to me, the pinnacle is the participation and cooperation. From what I have seen and heard is we are having a lot of that in Arizona."

State health director Dr. Cara Christ said that the positivity rate for cases in all but two Arizona counties was above 10%, raising serious concerns.

Gallego said in a video released after Ducey’s remarks that she was “deeply disappointed” he didn’t order masks be worn statewide and urged all Arizonans to wear one even if the governor did not issue a mandate.

“Public health officials and physicians agree masks are the No. 1 step we can take today to protect our public health,” Gallego said. “The virus is surging in Arizona, our health care leaders are very worried about capacity. We have the chance to save lives.”

 To mitigate the spread, Gov. Ducey announced that he will be amplifying public service announcement messaging, because thousands of snowbirds are heading to Arizona from all over the country for a warmer winter.

He also said the state would start providing COVID-19 tests at the main Arizona airports in Phoenix, Mesa and Tucson, and that it will invest $25 million to bolster hospital staffing. That money can be used to hire staff or provide bonuses.

As for schools, he said they should remain open, because students have missed out on far too much learning.

“Despite the best efforts of teachers and parents, no one can argue, kids have already missed out on far too much learning due to this pandemic,” Ducey said.

The state Department of Health Services on Wednesday tallied 3,206 newly confirmed virus cases and 53 more deaths. Arizona now has had 283,102 cases and the state’s COVID-19 death toll stands at 6,365.

According to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, the number of hospitalizations is now on par to where it was amid a June virus surge, with 1,700 patients. Those hospitalized now include nearly 400 people in intensive care unit beds.

Arizona had approximately 3,500 hospitalizations on a daily basis in mid-July during the peak of last summer’s surge but fewer than 500 some days in late September before the latest rise started.

Health officials have said the state’s recent surge is tied to factors including businesses and schools reopening and public fatigue with precautions such as mask-wearing.

Health expert sounds off on statewide mask mandate

Arizona health expert Will Humble believes even if the Governor would have issued a statewide mask mandate, it's far too late at this point.

"There is light at the end of the tunnel, but it's going to be a brutal December because of the choices that were not made and made in October," said Humble.

Humble said a statewide mask mandate that is consistent across all jurisdictions and enforcement for open businesses should have been issued more than a month ago.

"I think the mitigation measures that are in place for the bars and restaurant and nightclubs are good. They're just not being enforced," said Humble. "So that makes them far less effective than they could be if the merchants understood that they could lose their food establishment license if they don't comply."

Humble says he expected more from Gov. Ducey than the actions announced during the news conference.

"Those aren't policy interventions," said Humble. "They're trivial tidbits. I can't see where they will have an impact."

Humble says the spike in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations could have been avoidable. He believes hospitals will stop visitations, cancel elective procedures, and start the surge line.

"The third thing: the state health department activating the surge line, that's when they start moving patients from place to place, and then finally activating crisis standards and care," said Humble.

Gov. Ducey also spoke on November election results

During the news conference, Gov. Doug Ducey also touched on results from the recent elections in Arizona, and whether he accepts the outcome.

Various media organizations, including the Associated Press and FOX News, have projected President-Elect Joe Biden to win in Arizona.

"There are legal claims that are being challenged in court, and everyone on the ballot has certain access rights and remedies," said Gov. Duce. "If they want to push that, then they are able to. Once those are adjudicated, I will respect the results of the election."

First news conference on COVID-19 since October

The news conference on Nov. 18 is the first news conference of its kind held by Gov. Ducey in weeks.

"We’ve been through this before, and we’ve learned what works to combat this virus," said Gov. Ducey, during his last public address on COVID-19 on Oct. 29. At the time, Arizona had a daily new case count of about 1,600. Now, the state is seeing nearly 3,000 new cases per day. In addition, many schools have decided to close.

On Nov. 16, Gov. Ducey released a video on social media, asking people to limit gatherings, and wear masks.

On the same day, he released photos on Twitter of a virtual meeting he held with state directors, but he has yet to address the public.

On Nov. 17, the Governor’s spokesman said Ducey’s schedule was full, but did not reply when FOX 10 asked for additional details on his schedule. In the past seven days, governors of neighboring states have addressed the public, with California, Utah, and New Mexico’s governors all announcing new mandates and restrictions.

In Arizona, city and state leaders have called on Gov. Ducey to implement a statewide mask mandate.

On Nov. 16, Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kathy Hoffman, advocated for a statewide mask mandate.

"These COVID-19 mitigation efforts are essential to protecting our healthcare and education professionals and institutions," Supt. Hoffman wrote in a tweet.

In response to Hoffman, officials with the Governor's Office released a statement that reads:

"We value the strong working relationship we’ve had with Superintendent Kathy Hoffman. We’ve collaborated closely with them to provide guidance, resources, PPE, and will continue working together to prioritize the safety of our kids."

The Arizona Department of Health Services on Wednesday reported 3,206 new COVID-19 cases and 53 additional deaths.

According to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, the number of hospitalizations is now on par to where it was in June with 1,700 patients. Those include nearly 400 people in intensive care unit beds.

The state had approximately 3,500 hospitalizations on a daily basis in mid-July during the peak of last summer’s surge but fewer than 500 some days in late September before the latest rise started.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Health officials have said the state’s recent surge is tied to factors including businesses and schools reopening and public fatigue with precautions such as mask-wearing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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COVID-19 symptoms

Symptoms for coronavirus COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. These, of course, are similar to the common cold and flu. 

Expect a common cold to start out with a sore or scratchy throat, cough, runny and/or stuffy nose. Flu symptoms are more intense and usually come on suddenly, and can include a high fever. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear more slowly. They usually include fever, a dry cough and noticeable shortness of breath, according to the World Health Organization. A minority of cases develop pneumonia, and the disease is especially worrisome for the elderly and those with other medical problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or heart conditions.

RELATED: Is it the flu, a cold or COVID-19? Different viruses present similar symptoms

COVID-19 resources

CDC Website for COVID-19

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus

https://espanol.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html (In Spanish/En Español)

AZDHS Website for COVID-19

https://www.azdhs.gov/preparedness/epidemiology-disease-control/infectious-disease-epidemiology/index.php#novel-coronavirus-home

https://www.azdhs.gov/preparedness/epidemiology-disease-control/infectious-disease-epidemiology/es/covid-19/index.php#novel-coronavirus-home (In Spanish/En Español)