Gov. Doug Ducey praised the efforts of Arizona’s three state universities on Thursday during a press conference highlighting their research and efforts toward controlling the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ducey began by quickly running through various metrics tracking the spread of the pandemic, pointing to major drops in the state’s percent positivity and hospital beds in use from their heights in July.
Joined by President Robert Robbins of the University of Arizona, President Michael Crow of Arizona State University and President Rita Cheng of Northern Arizona University, Ducey said the state will spend an additional $14 million on their collective efforts toward controlling the spread and developing research to help the state and nation respond. That includes $8 million for additional testing and surveillance at universities, and $6 million for ASU to help it continue developing its “point in need” test.
That test, which Crow described, will allow a user to spit into a device that returns results of a COVID-19 test in minutes. He estimated it would be ready in about six months. It would be first deployed to health care workers and first responders, but eventually would be for widespread public use.
Each university president took a turn at the podium to briefly describe the work of their teams in terms of research, testing, and responding to the pandemic. That included the saliva test created at ASU, UA’s antibody test program, and NAU’s effort to set up drive-up wifi stations to increase internet access in rural and tribal areas.
Following questions from reporters, Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said some counties in the state have seen cases increase, meaning they will likely return to the “substantial spread” designation on the state’s business and school dashboards starting next week. She said the state is trying to work with those county health departments to be more targeted it their approach to reduce the likelihood of business closures.
Ducey also responded to the question and said the state will not close.
“Arizona’s economy is open, Arizona’s educational institutions are open, Arizona’s tourism institutions are open. The expectation is that they are going to remain open,” said Ducey.
In response to a question about cities like Sierra Vista and Scottsdale that have recently lifted their mask mandates, Ducey declined to say he would issue any further restrictions but described the matter as a “personal responsibility” and said Arizonans are a “common sense people,” noting that cases have declined significantly after local municipalities put mask mandates in place. Ducey prevented local municipalities from doing so earlier in the summer when cases were beginning to rise.
Ducey also said that the gradual rise in cases in the state recently will not result in any changes from his administration for the time being. With additional testing, “you should expect a rise in cases,” Ducey said. “What you should look at is our positivity rate, our hospital capacity, our ICU capacity, which are all at all-time lows.”
“There’s things we can do just like we have been doing. Socially distancing, washing hands, wearing masks,” Ducey said. “But Arizona is open and we will remain open in a safe and healthy way.”