As airlines cut routes, Tucson International Airport continues to operate as normally as possible, with directives for maintaining safe social distancing.

PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey wants visitors to Arizona from the New York City area — and anywhere else there is “substantial community spread” of the coronavirus — to quarantine themselves for two weeks after arrival.

In a directive Tuesday, the governor said his powers under state emergency laws allow him to tell new arrivals that they must go directly to a place of isolation or self quarantine of their choice “and only leave that location for essential services.”

Ducey said his directive is necessary because the tri-state area of Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, in particular, is a COVID-19 hot spot.

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. 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, said Gallego aide Annie DeGraw.

But the governor’s chief of staff, Daniel Scarpinato, said he sees nothing in the FAA directives to interfere with Ducey’s plan.

“We are coordinating with airports,” Scarpinato said. “We are not requiring them to do public health screenings. This is about educating travelers.”

DeGraw, however, said Ducey did not tell Gallego or city officials who run the Phoenix airport about his order before it was issued. And the way Phoenix officials see it, if Ducey wants to give a message to incoming travelers, he will have to use his own resources, even if it means sending National Guard troops to Arizona airports, she told Capitol Media Services.

Scarpinato countered: “This is a public health emergency, and it’s all hands on deck. 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 that cannot allow visitors that they must set up a system, like Skype or FaceTime, so that residents can have visual communication with family and friends.
  •  Allowed restaurants to resell items they bought wholesale to the general public without having to comply with normal labeling requirements.
  •  Mandated additional reporting requirements for medical providers to give the state more details about patients with COVID-19.
More details pledged on case locations

State health director Dr. Cara Christ announced that, beginning next week, she will provide more detailed information about where there are new cases. Up until this point, only the county of a patient was reported.

Christ said this decision had nothing to do with a lawsuit filed by state 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 department 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. But it changes every single day.”

Initially, she said, the estimates were that 1% to 2% of Arizonans — 74,000 to 148,000 using the latest population projections — would become infected, with 6% of that group expected to need hospitalization.

“That put us between 4,800 and 8,400 individuals,” Christ said.

“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.”

Ducey 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. And the fewer people that contract it, the fewer deaths that we’ll be experiencing.”

Unemployment checks will soon add federal money

Separately, Tom Betlach, the acting director of the Arizona 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 per week, the maximum allowed under Arizona law. But Betlach said checks going out this coming week will also include the additional $600 per week that the federal government is going to pay for.

Betlach acknowledged that many people are finding it difficult to even seek benefits, as nearly 130,000 individuals filed 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 working on this has been expanded from 20 to 150, with more hiring to come and an effort to work with private groups to process the applications.

Travelers from NY area

Ducey’s order on travelers, particularly from the New York metropolitan area, follows a recommendation from Deborah Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force.

She made the recommendation 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% of all coronavirus cases in the country and 60% 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. 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.

Questioned about enforcement, he 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.

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