PHOENIX — On Thursday afternoon, Gov. Doug Ducey appeared with Department of Health Director Dr. Cara Christ in a news conference to discuss the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis.
Ducey and Christ both emphasized the importance of ongoing vigilance and adhering to social distancing guidelines. Those guidelines include avoiding gatherings of 10 or more people, wearing masks, and maintaining a six-foot distance from others.
A few hours later, Ducey tweeted a collection of photos of a lunch he hosted that day with staff members, thanking them for their service during the pandemic.
The photos showed about 30 people sitting somewhat close together at round tables, appearing not to be adhering to any of the social distance guidelines. Only one staff member can be seen wearing a mask.
Twitter users were quick to criticize the apparent mixed messages being sent by the governor.
Ducey spokesperson Patrick Ptak did not respond to email, text and phone messages seeking answers about why the governor was hosting a lunch that did not appear to follow state health guidelines.
Since the state re-opened business and restaurants for “Phase One” guidelines, the percentage of positive Coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all trending upwards.
There are more COVID-19 hospitalizations than at any other time since the pandemic started.
“Our current guidance is if you’ve got small gatherings to keep it at ten or less,” Dr. Christ said Thursday. “We know that it’s difficult but try to stay six feet apart from people… and wear a face covering if possible.”
12 News left phone and email messages for communications representatives Chris Minnick and Holly Poynter at the AZ Department of Health, seeking a response from Dr. Christ. Poynter and Minnick did not respond.
Many restaurant and business owners are taking costly measures to implement the guidelines at the expense of limiting customer traffic. 12 News asked the Arizona Restaurant Association (ARA) about the governor’s tweet and whether it could create confusion among businesses trying to do the right thing.
ARA President Steve Chucri said he didn’t want to comment, and instead said he would leave it up to the governor to comment on “why they are sitting close together.”
As public health experts nationwide try to present a clear, consistent message, they face a counter-movement. For some, the mask is a symbol of fear. Some politicians are even flouting their resistance to health guidelines and President Trump is demanding the Republican National Convention scheduled for August not include social distancing measures.
Arizona House Democratic Minority Whip Athena Salman told 12 News Friday the governor is not consistent.
“Leading by example works in the positive and negative direction,” Salman said. “[Ducey's] image clearly demonstrates why COVID-19 is making a comeback in our state.”
When asked about Ducey’s Tweet, The Arizona Chamber of Commerce declined to comment directly about it.
“The Arizona Chamber has confidence in Arizona’s job creators to reopen their operations safely and responsibly,” said Chamber spokesperson Garrick Taylor in an email to 12 News. “We appreciate the governor’s leadership throughout this period and his work to ensure Arizona returns stronger.”