Time To 'Hustle It Up With Vaccines' — Arizona Gov. Ducey On Pandemic, Emergency Powers, Censure
STEVE GOLDSTEIN: The state's Department of Health Services announced it has passed a milestone as the number of Arizonans receiving one or both stages of COVID vaccination has surpassed half a million. But the state is reporting more than 4,600 cases of COVID-19 and 176 related deaths today (Jan. 28). Total positive cases are approaching three quarters of a million, and more than 12,000 800 Arizonans have died from the coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic.
MARK BRODIE: Arizona is one of just a handful of states in which at least 10% of the population has tested positive for COVID-19, and its infection rates remain among the highest in the country. State officials are focusing on getting as many residents vaccinated as quickly as possible. Earlier this week, Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order, which would basically allow the state to take vaccines from providers that aren't using them quickly enough and get them to places where they will go into arms sooner. I spoke with Gov. Ducey yesterday afternoon and started the conversation by asking about that order.
DOUG DUCEY: Mark, it's time we hustle it up with the vaccines. We need to get more vaccines in more people's arms with more of a sense of urgency. So this executive order allows us to do that. We've got many good health care providers and medical officers around the state that are doing a fine job. But if we see a vaccine that is sitting too long in a freezer or refrigerator, we're going to take it to one of our sites and make sure that we can accommodate the public with what they need.
BRODIE: Do you have a sense of how prevalent it is that there are doses sitting in freezers not being administered?
DUCEY: It's not too prevalent. At the same time, like I said, we want to go faster. We have a real sense of purpose on doing this. We're getting every vaccine possible that we can from the federal government and the private sector, and we want to make sure that they are at these distribution centers. You're probably aware we opened up a 24/7 distribution center at Arizona Cardinals Stadium. It's doing 12,000 vaccinations a day. We're going to open up another one on Feb. 1 at Phoenix Municipal. That will start at 500 a day; we can do up to 12,000 a day. We need more vaccines. So if they're in freezers, we're going to get them to the vaccination sites. And if they're not, we're asking the federal government and the private sector to ramp up the supply chain.
BRODIE: I know Dr. Christ, the director of the state Department of Health Services, has also talked about the fact that the state could be giving more vaccinations if only Arizona had the doses. I'm curious if that's something you were able to discuss with any federal officials while you were in D.C. for President Biden's inauguration?
DUCEY: Yes, we've had conversations with the Biden administration. I think they understand that. We're not the only state in this situation. We do have 500,000 vaccines that have been distributed. But we also have the anomaly in Arizona of a lot of migration from colder weather states of people that come here, they're residents of other states, but now they're in our state, and they need to be vaccinated. So we've made a request for an additional 300,000 over and above our allotment, and we're hopeful that we will receive that.
BRODIE: So President Biden has announced that states would be getting a 16% increase in doses starting next week. What do you think about that? Is that sufficient for Arizona? Is that a good start?
DUCEY: I think it's a good start. I hope it's 16% increase week over week every week going forward. I think we're in a position now with what we've been able to do with our fine medical officers at the county level — of course, the leadership of Dr. Cara Christ and the 24/7 sites that we've put together in Maricopa County with Pima County coming soon — we can distribute all the vaccine that they can get to us. So it really is about supply chain right now. There's discussion around the Defense Production Act. I'm in favor of all that because whatever we can do to have more product, we'll be able to protect more people.
BRODIE: So by all accounts, you referenced the vaccination site at State Farm Stadium. By all accounts, it's very efficient. It's moving along well. It's doing what it's intended to do. There have, however — and I'm sure you've heard them and seen them — been quite a few complaints about the process of signing up for an appointment to get the vaccination. People complain that the website isn't terribly user-friendly, that there's confusion about the county eligibility versus state, about, confusion about getting an appointment for the second dose of the vaccine. Are there any plans on the state level to modify the process for signing up for an appointment?
DUCEY: Yes, Mark. We've heard all of those complaints, and we've listened. We've retooled that website. I think the new one went live either yesterday or will sometime today. It'll be much more streamlined and simple and customer friendly. So that was definitely a place where we could improve, and I believe we have.
BRODIE: So I want to ask you about the pandemic more broadly, because Arizona is still a hotspot in terms of confirmed cases, infection rates. You have said that you didn't anticipate any additional mitigation strategies other than the ones that you have outlined and implemented already. Is that still your position today?
DUCEY: The mitigation strategies that we've put in place have worked and they'll continue to work. They do need some accountability. There's local leaders across the state that have ignored these. If they'll pay attention to them and they have proper enforcement, they'll continue to help slow the spread of this virus and allow us to get the vaccine out. We've got the most effective mitigation strategies available — they're the one suggested by the Coronavirus Task Force. There's been little to no enforcement or accountability anywhere in the state besides the state entities from Department of Health Services and Department of Liquor.
BRODIE: What types of enforcement do you think that the cities and the localities should be doing?
DUCEY: Well, what we're trying to do, Mark, is to make sure that we've got a reduced capacity inside our restaurants, 25% capacity in our gyms, that masks are being worn. And those are the things that slow the spread — where we've used every public tool available to break up large gatherings. And that's what we need to do going forward. That's where we have these spreader or superspreader events.
BRODIE: Do you agree with the Cactus League and some of the city officials who have asked MLB to delay spring training by some number of weeks? Do you think that that's something that's needed or a good idea?
DUCEY: Well, I want to slow the spread, but I also want us to be able to do what we can do. I don't think that that was at the advice of the Centers for Disease Control or Arizona Department of Health Services. At the end of the day, Major League Baseball's in charge of Major League Baseball. They're welcome here. I want spring training. I want to have as much of the season as possible. I'm hopeful as they ramp up supply chain and we can vaccinate our vulnerable Arizonans, our elderly Arizonans, all of our workers, that we'll have vaccine available for players as well. Of course, it's going to be our most vulnerable that are at the top of the priority list.
BRODIE: Does it make you nervous, though, to have 15 teams — plus coaches, staff, umpires, everybody else associated with the Cactus League — potentially coming to the Valley within a matter of weeks?
DUCEY: Well, I think if we have proper testing in place, we have proper protocols in place, people are out and about already. A Major League Baseball team is not that large a gathering of people. In many of those settings, you can have enforcement around the rules and regulations and have a more disciplined environment. So that doesn't as much concern me as that we have clear guidelines as to how we'll handle it.
BRODIE: So you've gotten criticism, as I'm sure you know, from both Republicans and Democrats for the steps you've taken on the pandemic. And there has been some debate this week about maybe limiting governors' emergency powers. You've said elsewhere that you are open to improving the laws surrounding a governor's emergency powers. I'm wondering if you think the approach the Legislature is taking now would do that — would improve those laws?
DUCEY: Well, first, I want to say I realize that I've got critics on both sides — those that think I've done too much and those that think I've done too little. I'm not listening to political parties when it comes to public health. I'm listening to medical doctors and subject matter experts. So of course, I'm not going to please people on the extremes with some of these decisions. What I'd like to do is make sure that we've got the right decisions in place so that we can move forward. I think, as someone who comes from a private sector background, there are so many places in government where we can make improvements. And if there are improvements around the emergency orders, I'm open-minded to that going forward post-pandemic. I'm not open minded to it right now. There's a public health emergency order because we're in a public health emergency order, and that order isn't going to change until we're done with the emergency.
BRODIE: So Arizona got some pretty good fiscal news this week with legislative budget analysts estimating about $2 billion as a surplus in the upcoming fiscal year. They estimated around $400 million of that would be available for ongoing expenses as opposed to one-time. Do you have a sense of what you would like to do with that money — where that should go?
DUCEY: Well, first, I'd like to say to all the listeners, that that's a real testament to the citizens of Arizona, to the difficult decisions that we made early in the administration of tightening our belt, of being fiscally responsible, of having good policy that has brought people to our state. And while I wake up every day thinking about how I can help the Arizonans that have been displaced in our economy, I think it's nearly 89% of Arizonans that have not missed a paycheck over the last 11 months. And when the pandemic started through virus and recession, we had 45 other states that we were ahead of. And we sit here today still in the top five. The future's very bright for the state of Arizona. We've been able to make investments in our K-12 education system even during distance learning. And I want to make sure that we've got policies out there that continue to make our state a great place to live, very attractive for quality of life and competitive. So we're looking at the economic environment, tax cuts and making sure our schools are properly funded and that our kids are caught up so that not only can they get their degrees and head into the workforce at some time, but also the folks that were displaced can find a job and begin their career path again.
BRODIE: Folks in the education world, of course, have been talking about maybe some of that extra money could go toward schools or toward the K-12 system. Would that be a consideration for you?
DUCEY: Of course we're going to invest in K-12. But my focus on education right now, while we have spent additional dollars — and I think $6.4 billion additional dollars over the last six years — is our kids have fallen behind. There was an achievement gap before the pandemic. It falls squarely down income and racial lines. Distance learning has not been good for these kids. These kids don't have a laptop or oftentimes have Wi-Fi. I'm going to take additional dollars to make sure those kids are caught up and on grade level.
BRODIE: So, Governor, I have to ask you a political question before I let you go, and I'm curious to get your reaction to the decision over the weekend of the state Republican Party to censure you.
DUCEY: I pay very little attention to it. I'm focused on leading and governing. The election cycle is over, and I'm going to let politics stand down and stay focused on my day job.
BRODIE: All right. We'll leave it there. That is Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey. Gov. Ducey, thanks for your time. I appreciate it.
DUCEY: Thank you, Mark. Thank you very much.