Whether Arizona Decreases Its COVID-19 Cases Comes Down to This

Whether Arizona Decreases Its COVID-19 Cases Comes Down to This

By Jessica Swarner

May 14, 2020

If people aren’t responsible as businesses begin to reopen, the percentage of positive coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Arizona are expected to increase. 

One day after Gov. Doug Ducey announced he was giving more businesses in the state the “green light” to begin reopening, the executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association said there is at least one wild card – how responsibly business owners and customers will behave. 

“The key is really what are businesses going to do? And how are people going to behave?” Will Humble told The Copper Courier. “And we don’t have the answer to that.” 

Last Friday, Ducey allowed hair and nail salons, barbershops, and retail stores to open, with restaurant dining rooms allowed to open Monday. On Tuesday, he announced pools, gyms, and spas could open Wednesday, with movie theaters, indoor malls, and tattoo parlors opening Saturday. 

Additionally, Ducey said he will allow the state’s stay-at-home order to expire Friday.

While many businesses have worked hard to stay in compliance with social distancing guidelines, concerns were raised Monday about a bar in Tempe that looked to be packed with people. 

RELATED: With Masks And Plastic Shields Ready, Arizona Businesses Reopen

According to ABC 15, police said they were called to C.A.S.A. but found everyone to be adhering to the rules, save for a few tables that staff were asked to move further apart. 

However, Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell told The Copper Courier what happened at the bar “wasn’t what I envisioned reopening to look like.” He called it a “good lesson learned” and noted that C.A.S.A.’s owner has been working with the city to tighten things even more, including placing social distancing tape measures on the sidewalk where people wait to enter. 

Mitchell issued an emergency proclamation Tuesday requiring all businesses that must submit security plans to the city (like bars, nightclubs, and entertainment venues) to also document how they will follow social distancing and other protective measures.

The process is complaint-driven, Mitchell said, meaning police aren’t going around to check on businesses. If officers are called to a business, they can ask to see the plan. If a business doesn’t produce a plan, they will be warned. And if there are recurring problems, a business could be cited for a misdemeanor.

But Mitchell said he doesn’t think things will go that far. 

“I don’t think any business is looking to get cited,” he said. “I think businesses are looking to reopen, and they’re looking for guidance.” 

Is The State Ready For This? 

Humble said there’s a good argument that the state is ready to begin carefully opening businesses.

While Arizona has not seen a decreasing number of positive coronavirus cases for a two-week period, Humble said that’s partly due to the state’s efforts to increase testing. If officials instead look at the percentage of tests coming back positive, that number has slightly decreased over two weeks. 

The state meets other criteria, including having a downward trend in influenza-like illnesses within two weeks and having the capacity to treat patients in hospitals without having to resort to crisis care.

One stumbling point, however, is whether the state has a “robust” testing system in place. 

“There are people, scientists and others, who have suggested that Arizona’s nowhere near where we need to be in terms of testing capacity in order to call it robust,” Humble said. 

But regardless, testing is improving. In late April, Ducey announced a statewide “testing blitz,” with plans to hold three weekend events testing 20,000 people each. However, the state’s last planned mass testing campaign happens Saturday as more businesses reopen.

Humble said the state’s capacity for contact tracing is also getting better. He said Maricopa County has made progress in hiring and is working with the state’s 2-1-1 system to divide the labor. 

RELATED: Expert Says Reopening Arizona Depends on How Many COVID-19 Deaths We Find Acceptable

Humble said while he expects both testing and contact tracing to steadily improve, whether Arizona avoids a surge in cases comes down to how businesses and people act in public. 

If guidelines aren’t followed, Humble said, the percentage of positive tests and number of hospitalizations in the state will go up.

“If people aren’t responsible … we’re going to end up back in the same place,” he said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen, but it remains to be seen.”

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  • Jessica Swarner

    Jessica Swarner is the community editor for The Copper Courier. She is an ASU alumna and previously worked at KTAR News 92.3 FM in Phoenix.

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