Ducey taps National Guard, halts elective surgeries in affected counties
PHOENIX — Facing increased pressure, Gov. Doug Ducey late Thursday agreed to activate the National Guard to restock store shelves, halt all elective surgeries and close all bars, gyms and movie theaters in any county where there have been confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The order also bars dine-in service in restaurants in the same counties by close of business on Friday. But in an unusual provision, the governor said that restaurants will be able to deliver alcoholic drinks to patrons who get their food to go.
And Ducey is extending the expiration date of all driver’s licenses. That is designed to ensure that anyone 65 and older does not have to visit a Motor Vehicle Division office to get a renewal.
In separate action, Attorney General Mark Brnovich is asking 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 of time. And it 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 orders, what Brnovich is seeking is simply a request, with no force of law.
The move comes just a day after Ducey said he saw no reason to enact restrictions on bars and restaurants to protect public health.
Instead, the governor said he was content with asking Arizonans to voluntarily comply with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to limit group activities and, specifically, not to gather with more than 10 people at any one time.
And 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 and counties.
Ducey also spurned questions about how effective voluntary compliance is when residents of places like Tucson and Phoenix with such bans can simply go across the street, just outside the corporate limits, go to bars and restaurants, mingle with patrons — and then return to their home community.
By Thursday, the governor’s thinking had changed.
In a press release, Ducey said that county-wide closures “ensure one consistent policy across jurisdictions.’’
But he said it’s not a change of mind but simply “updated guidance.’’
The order does contain 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.
Ducey’s reticence to act has been highlighted in the past few days in a series of tweets from Democratic U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema calling on him to shutter bars and restaurants as a method of controlling the spread of the disease.
At last count, there were 45 confirmed cases.
On Thursday, just minutes after Ducey made his announcement, Sinema said he’s on the right track. But she said it doesn’t go far enough.
“This order should apply throughout Arizona,’’ Sinema tweeted.
“Social distancing is how you slow/stop the spread of the coronavirus,’’ she continued. “Let’s do it ASAP.’’
The decision to call out the National Guard also is a reversal of the governor’s prior stance.
Ducey had previously addressed the question of hoarding of supplies by simply urging people to buy just what they need. And the governor said he had been assured by executives of grocery chains that supplies will 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 they are open to the public to devote available staff to stocking shelves.
Now, the governor said, the troops will help not just grocery stores but also food banks restock their shelves.
Ducey’s order banning elective surgery, in some ways, mirrors what already has been happening at many hospitals.
The governor, in his release, 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 non-essential 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 these 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.’’
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,’’ he wrote.