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Mayors criticize governor's order for not going far enough on business closures
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Mayors criticize governor's order for not going far enough on business closures

Arizona mayors slam Ducey edict keeping golf courses open

Emily Miles has her temperature taken before being allowed to donate blood at a temporary blood bank set up in a church's fellowship hall Tuesday in Tempe. Schools and businesses that typically host blood drives are temporarily closed due to precautionary measures in place to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus leading to extremely low levels of blood availability throughout the state.

An executive order released by Gov. Doug Ducey drew criticism from several mayors Tuesday who felt it ran counter to local efforts slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

The order defined what kinds of businesses are considered “essential” and thus should remain open throughout the crisis.

But in a letter sent to the governor Tuesday, the mayors of Flagstaff, Tucson, Tolleson, Somerton and Winslow asserted that those definitions were too broad and unhelpful in social distancing efforts.

The list of businesses considered essential in the governor's executive order is a long one and includes businesses like financial institutions, hardware stores, hotels, professional services such as real estate offices, golf courses, laundromats and restaurants as long as the food is consumed off the premises.

The order also brought all communities in line with the state's definitions and limited the actions local officials could take above and beyond what the governor outlined.

In a statement, the governor said the order was an effort to provide the state with a single clear and consistent policy regarding essential businesses moving forward.

The order came after several cities, beginning with Flagstaff, and counties ordered certain businesses closed last week including entertainment venues, gyms and dining in at restaurants.

The state followed suit for all counties with confirmed cases of COVID-19 last week as well.

Regarding the order, Ducey told the Associated Press he’s preparing for the future but at the moment, there’s no need for a stay-at-home order like those issued in several U.S. cities and states, including California and New York.

“Arizona is not there yet,” Ducey said. “We're not at the same stage as other states.”

Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans said the governor’s executive order did not conflict with her own proclamation closing business. But Evans said the governor’s definitions for what business are essential is far too broad.

“I don’t think [Ducey] is trying to limit anyone’s exposure because everything is considered essential,” Evans told the Arizona Daily Sun. “We are trying to prevent the loss of life.”

Evans said in recent days, local officials have discussed additional restrictions to limit face-to-face contact such as restricting banks to be used only through drive-thru. But potential measures like that are now in question.

“We appreciate you taking action yesterday to define what are to be considered essential functions. However in reviewing your executive order we feel that it is too broad in its definition of ‘essential,’ such as payday lenders and golf courses,” the letter from the mayors reads. “We acknowledge that [closing businesses] are painful decisions with severe economic repercussions, but immediate action will save lives.”

Winslow Mayor Thomas McCauley said he was worried because of how the order could accommodate the spread of the virus.

The order outlines that day cares can look after the children of all workers deemed essential by the order. But McCauley said given how many business are considered essential, the number of families now allowed to use day care during the crisis is nearly everyone.

Over the weekend, in a step farther than other cities, McCauley ordered all nonessential business in Winslow closed.

“What I was trying to prevent in Winslow is as much counter face-to-face services that we can. We know how this spreads,” McCauley said. “All the parents congregate in the morning and they drop off the kids, the kids play together all day and again the parents congregate as they come to pick them up and go home.”

“By the time you figure out who all is considered essential services, you know, there’s quite a bit of people out there and I don’t know how effective it is to try to ask people to limit [contact] when the governor’s moving in a different direction,” McCauley said.

Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for Ducey, sidestepped questions about why the state's estimated 300 golf courses were on the list. “This order is about protecting public health and preserving critical financial lifelines for many communities across our state,” he said in an email.

While golf courses are open, national parks are not. National forests in northern and eastern Arizona, and outside the Phoenix metro area announced this week the closure of picnic sites, day-use areas and developed campgrounds. Some already had suspended the rental of cabins. Grand Canyon National Park suspended private, commercial and research trips on the Colorado River, starting Tuesday until late May.

Arizona had 326 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday, according to the state Department of Health Services. That is a jump of nearly 100 from a day earlier.

Navajo Nation officials announced the discovery of 10 more cases, bringing the total to 39. All but four are in Arizona. The tribe has instituted a “stay-at-home” order as well and told nonessential businesses to temporarily close.

As worry about resources for a growing patient toll grows, Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone on Tuesday suggested retrofitting a new Phoenix jail as a temporary medical clinic for the community if hospital bed space becomes scarce. The 1,500-bed jail hasn’t yet opened.

Ducey agreed to pause evictions for 120 days for renters quarantining due to coronavirus or who are struggling from the economic fallout. To qualify, renters will have to provide documentation that they’ve been ordered to quarantine, have a health condition that leaves them vulnerable or suffered a substantial income loss. Renters will be required to acknowledge in writing that the terms of their lease haven’t changed.

For most people, COVID-19 causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, older adults and people with health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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