PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey wants visitors to Arizona from the New York City area — and anywhere else there is "substantial community spread" — to quarantine themselves for two weeks after arrival.
In a new directive Tuesday, the governor said his powers under state emergency laws allow him to tell new arrivals that they must go directly to their place of isolation or self quarantine "and only leave that location for essential services." Ducey said the move is necessary because the tri-state area of Connecticut, New Jersey and New York has become a COVID-19 hotspot.
But an aide to Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said the Federal Aviation Agency prohibits any airport employees from participating in this kind of public health screening. And Annie DeGraw said that even includes making announcements to arriving passengers that they must quarantine themselves and cannot simply leave the airport to go out and do what they want.
But Daniel Scarpinato, the governor's chief of staff, said he sees nothing in the FAA directives to interfere with what Duey wants to do.
"We are coordinating with airports," he said.
"We are not requiring them to public health screenings," Scarpinato said. "This is about educating travelers."
DeGraw, however, said the governor never told Gallego or city officials who run the airport about his order before it was issued. And she told Capitol Media Services, that the way the city sees it, if Ducey wants to give a message to incoming travelers he's going to have to use his own resources, even if it means sending National Guard troops to Arizona airports.
Scarpinato said Ducey finds nothing improper in his order.
"This is a public health emergency, and it's all hands on deck," he said. "The airports will be playing a role, just like other public and private entities across the state."
In separate orders Tuesday, the governor also:
- told nursing homes and similar facilities which cannot allow visitors that they must set up some kind of system so that residents can have visual communication with family and friends, like Skype or FaceTime;
- agreed to allow restaurants to resell items they bought wholesale to the general public without having to comply with normal labeling requirements;
- mandate additional reporting requirements on medical providers to give the state additional details of patients with COVID-19.
Along the same lines, state Health Director Cara Christ announced that, beginning next week, she will start providing more detailed information about where there are new cases. Up until this point, only the county of a patient was reported.
But Christ said this decision had nothing to do with a lawsuit filed by Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, and other public officials demanding access to that information under the state's Public Records Law.
Separately, Christ, who repeatedly referenced "modeling" done by her agency to determine the impact of the virus and the number of hospital beds needed, deflected multiple questions asking her to share what she knows with the public about how many Arizonans are expected to get ill and how many are expected to die.
"The information that we have is really scratch paper," she said.
"We're working with the universities to develop actual modeling," Christ continued. "But it changes ever single day."
Initially, she said, the estimates was that 1 to 2 percent of Arizonans — 74,000 to 148,000 using the latest population projections — would become infected, with 6 percent of that group expected to need hospitalization.
"That put us between 4,800 and 8,400 individuals," Christ said.
And she turned aside a request to come up with estimates to help Arizonans understand the scope of the problem.
"We are trying to keep the deaths down," Christ said. "So I am not going to estimate a guess on how many people could eventually die."
The governor gave a similar response when asked about a worst-case scenario.
"I know that you all want a prediction," he told reporters.
"What we're working on every day is to reduce the number of Arizonans that contract COVID-19," Ducey said. "And the fewer people that contract it, the fewer deaths that we'll be experiencing."
Separately, Tom Betlach, the acting director of the Department of Economic Security, said anyone who managed to apply for unemployment benefits for the week ending March 28 should get their first check sometime this week.
For the moment, those checks are limited to no more than $240, the maximum allowed under Arizona law. But Betlach said checks going out this coming week will also include the additional $600 which the federal government is going to fund.
Betlach acknowledged that many people are finding it difficult to even seek benefits, what with nearly 130,000 individuals filing first-time claims last week in a system built to handle the typical average of only 3,000 a week.
"We recognize it is still challenging for individuals to get through," he said. "We have seen the demand just surge to, at certain points in time, 70 calls per second coming into the state lines."
Betlach said the staff has been expanded from 20 to 150, with more hiring to come and an effort to work with private groups to process the applications.
The governor's order on those from the New York metro area is not an original idea.
Deborah Birx, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force made the recommendation on March 24 for self-quarantine of travelers from that area, even applying it to those who are not showing symptoms. Birx said at the time that 56 percent of all the coronavirus cases in the country and 60 percent of new cases were coming from the area.
Less clear is exactly how Ducey intends to enforce his order here in Arizona.
On paper, it says the state health department must coordinate with each airport authority to put his order into effect. And it directs every airport authority and local government to assist.
"Our Department of Health Services will be working with airports to make sure that travelers are made aware of these requirements upon arrival," Ducey said. In fact, the order is not specifically limited to airline arrivals from New York area airports but to arrivals "from an area with substantial community spread."
Pushed on enforcement, the governor said this is no different than his "stay-at-home" directive he issued last week for Arizonans. Violators are subject to a possible $2,500 fine and six months in county jail.