Arizona is now considered to be the worldwide epicenter for the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Doug Ducey stood by his past response to the growing COVID-19 pandemic, despite harsh criticism from other politicians and growing concern from health experts as the number of deaths in the state topped 2,000.
“My decisions are not going to be influenced by any attempt to please the press, and they will not be influenced by politics in any way,” Ducey said during a news conference Thursday. “Everything we will do going forward will be to promote and protect public health in Arizona.”
Ducey issued a new executive order with guidelines to limit the use of indoor dining in restaurants to 50% of capacity, but critics pointed out that a rule limiting restaurant occupancy has been in place since June 17. U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, tweeted this during the news conference:
Ducey also announced an increase in testing, through public and private partnerships.
Arizona continues to report record highs for hospitalizations and use of ventilators. After a drop in the number of additional cases reported in the early part of the week, they shot back above 4,000 on Thursday.
“We are seeing some better results,” Ducey, a Republican, said during a televised news conference. “We need to see more. But the actions we took 10 days ago are making a difference. We need to increase this difference.”
Arizona has emerged as a national hot spot since Ducey loosened stay-home restrictions in mid-May, drawing national attention to the state and Ducey’s response to the outbreak.
“I hear the criticism and I know that there are differing opinions out there on how Arizona has handled this virus,” Ducey said. He said his decisions aren’t influenced by criticism in the press or by political considerations.
In a statement Wednesday, Joe Biden, the 2020 presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, called upon the Trump administration to intervene to protect the residents of Arizona.
The former vice president noted how Arizonans who want or need to get a COVID-19 test “have been forced to endure 13 hours in line in the boiling heat.”
Arizona is one of four states that White House health adviser Deborah Birx suggested should reinstate stricter limitations on the public because of the uptick in infections. The other states are Florida, California and Texas.
Hospitals in Arizona report that 89% of intensive care beds and 87% of in-patient beds are in use, according to state health officials, raising concerns that health care facilities are close to being inundated.
Biden said Arizona hospitals “are overwhelmed, the test positivity rate is soaring, and the pleas of local leaders for help were repeatedly dismissed.”
Vice President Mike Pence said in a news conference Wednesday that Arizona seemed to be flattening the curve in regard to new COVID-19 infections – a claim Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego rebuffed Thursday.
“We are still seeing new cases all the time, and to say that bending it a little bit lower is success doesn’t feel that way to the people in our community who are still waiting more than a week for a test,” Gallego told The Washington Post. “Our doctors and nurses tell me that they are exhausted and treating so many more patients than they were just a few weeks ago.”
At his Thursday news conference, Ducey acknowledged that Arizona experienced a “brutal June” and has entered a “time of maximum challenge right now.” He also voiced concerns that the fall and the flu season could raise a host of new dangers.
Ducey urged local residents to wear masks and stay home as much as possible, echoing a call by Gallego earlier in the day.
“I believe our residents will do the right thing if they get accurate information,” Gallego said. “I am calling on every elected official from the president on down to send a message that wearing masks works and that staying at home can slow the spread.”
As of Friday, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported a total of 116,892 cases of COVID-19 and 2,082 deaths in the state. It said 860,295 tests for COVID-19 have been completed in public and private labs in Arizona, and 11.7% of tests have come back positive for the virus that causes the disease.