What you need to know: Gov. Ducey announces free COVID-19 vaccines for Arizonans, more funding for hospitals

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey held another news conference on Dec. 2 on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in Arizona, as the state's latest surge in new cases continues.

According to information released by state health officials on Dec. 2,  Arizona saw an increase of 3,840 confirmed cases and 52 deaths, increasing the state’s totals to 340,979 cases and 6,739 deaths.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 hospitalizations reached 2,699 as of Dec. 1, up more than 100 from Nov. 30 and included 642 patients in Intensive Care Unit beds. COVID-19 hospitalizations in Arizona peaked around 3,500 during the state’s summer surge.

Here are some of the takeaways from the news conference:

1. Arizonans to receive COVID-19 vaccines for free

During the news conference. Gov. Ducey talked about the COVID-19 vaccine, where he said Arizona is expected to receive the first doses of the vaccine in mid to late December.

In addition, Gov. Ducey says he has issued an Executive Order that will allow all Arizonans to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, free of charge, and that teachers will be a priority group in receiving the vaccine, alongside health care workers and first responders.

"We want our schools open and our teachers protected," Ducey said of teachers being vaccinated, adding, "We know that teachers want to get back desperately into their classrooms, safely. We know that teachers are essential so under our plan they will be prioritized."

Joe Thomas, Mesa teacher and president of the Arizona Education Association, says that's good news, but there's a bigger picture.

"We need our students and their parents to be vaccinated. A school is only as safe as the community that it's in and until everyone has the opportunity to have this vaccine and take hold in them and suppress this virus, we're really not going to have safe schools,"  Tomas said.

He's unsure about how many teachers will be opposed to the vaccine, adding that there is a number of reasons why schools don't have enough staff members during the pandemic as some schools have closed their doors due to a large number of teachers calling out sick.

Gov. Ducey said taxpayer dollars will not be used to pay for the vaccines, and that the state is working with insurance providers to implement the new executive order.

2. Expanded funding for hospitals

Gov. Ducey, during the news conference, also announced another $60M in funding to hospitals for staffing purposes.

"With the funding, ADHS is working to secure an additional 500 nurses through the end of the month, with additional staffing to last throughout January," read a statement released by the Governor's Office. "The staffing boost will provide critical nursing resources to hospitals statewide amid the surge of COVID-19 patients."

Funding for the staffing will come from the Coronavirus Relief Fund that was established as part of the federal CARES Act, and will come in addition to the $25M already announced to help hospitals address staffing needs.

3. Expansion of outdoor dining

In addition, Gov. Ducey said restaurants will be allowed to create outdoor dining without a permit. In an executive order on outdoor dining, Gov. Ducey directed the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control to accept and review requests by liquor licensees who are seeking to temporarily extend their premises outdoors, for the purpose of mitigating the spread of COVID-19, and that such extensions can't exceed 60 feet from the restaurant.

For Adam Rivera, who owns Los Sombreros, Gov. Ducey's announcement is good news.

“We have 55 team members with all three restaurants in the Valley, so for us, every employee wants more hours, they want to open a little bit more, but when you have five tables outside because of social distancing, it makes it hard, so now, with Doug Ducey's help, we are able to put more tables outside, that really is going to help us out," said Rivera.

In addition, Gov. Ducey also announced $1 million in funding to help businesses make the expansion happen.

"We have to get more chairs, we have to get some heaters at nighttime. It’s getting a little chilly right so now. We have to get some heaters, so everything is a cost for the restaurant, so any help is very appreciated," said Rivera.

However, not all restaurants in Arizona can say the same. Los Altenos in Flagstaff closed their outdoor space over a month ago because of the weather. 

"It’s nice that people are getting to expand, but in Flagstaff, especially right now, the weather is not going to allow us to actually do that. Even beforehand, we had to go all dine-in because it’s been way too chilly out here," said the owners of Los Altenos.

4. Announcement of public events

In the same news conference, Gov. Ducey announced that local jurisdictions must announce major public events involving more than 50 people, as well as detailing the disease mitigation strategies that will be deployed.

5. No mandatory mask mandate, curfews or shutdowns announced

Despite calls for a statewide mask mandate to be implemented, Gov. Ducey made no such announcements during a COVID-19 news conference in November. Gov. Ducey once again stopped short of announcing a mask mandate during the news conference, nor did he announce any kind of shutdowns or curfews.

"I believe we should instead focus on accountability and enforcing the rules we have in place now," said Gov. Ducey, early on in the news conference.

During the news conference, Gov. Ducey also offered his condolences to families of those who lost loved ones due to COVID-19, and reiterated the need for Arizonans to wear masks, wash hands, and maintain social distancing measures.

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COVID-19 symptoms

Symptoms for coronavirus COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. These, of course, are similar to the common cold and flu. 

Expect a common cold to start out with a sore or scratchy throat, cough, runny and/or stuffy nose. Flu symptoms are more intense and usually come on suddenly, and can include a high fever. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear more slowly. They usually include fever, a dry cough and noticeable shortness of breath, according to the World Health Organization. A minority of cases develop pneumonia, and the disease is especially worrisome for the elderly and those with other medical problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or heart conditions.

RELATED: Is it the flu, a cold or COVID-19? Different viruses present similar symptoms

COVID-19 resources

CDC Website for COVID-19


https://espanol.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html (In Spanish/En Español)

AZDHS Website for COVID-19


https://www.azdhs.gov/preparedness/epidemiology-disease-control/infectious-disease-epidemiology/es/covid-19/index.php#novel-coronavirus-home (In Spanish/En Español)