The Arizona governor has followed Trump’s lead in prioritizing the economy over public health.
As health experts raise red flags over Arizona’s worsening COVID-19 numbers, Gov. Doug Ducey continues to loosen restrictions put in place to reduce the spread of the virus.
Despite record daily increases in cases, emergency room visits, ventilator use, intubations, ICU bed usage, and more, Ducey has not responded with any action to retighten restrictions after allowing the state’s stay-at-home order to expire last month. In fact, he announced at the end of May that schools will plan to reopen classrooms in the fall, and he gave the go-ahead for youth sports and summer camps to resume.
The situation has escalated to the point that, on Monday, the Arizona Department of Health Services asked hospitals to fully activate their emergency plans and consider once again reducing or pausing elective surgeries.
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The governor at a press briefing last week attributed the rise in cases to increased testing. “The more we test, the more cases that we are going to have,” he said. But Maricopa County Public Health officials and others have said the alarming numbers are due to more than just that.
An Early Reopening
Arizona has been one of the states moving the quickest toward fully reopening, thanks to Ducey’s push to get the economy back on track. The Republican governor has remained eager to please the business community, despite repeated criticisms from hundreds of business owners who feel the state is reopening too quickly.
“I am confident that we have made the best and most responsible decisions possible,” Ducey said at a press briefing last week.
After instating a stay-at-home order March 31, Ducey allowed it to expire May 15. Certain businesses could begin reopening as early as May 8, at a time when the state did not fully meet federal criteria for reopening.
While encouraging reopening, Ducey cited misleading metrics — he touted a declining positive percentage of tests as a good sign, but was including serology, or antibody, tests in that number, rather than just diagnostic tests.
The governor has even actively encouraged people to go out and patronize businesses, saying they only need to be worried if they are at elevated risk for COVID-19. However, people who are under the age of 65 and don’t have underlying health conditions can still contract the disease and die from it.
Ducey made the announcement that he would begin reopening the state shortly after President Donald Trump visited a Phoenix mask-making facility. The president has repeatedly downplayed the severity of the virus and has encouraged the country’s leaders to put the economy before people’s health.
Despite Arizona being on the wrong side of recovery, Republicans have been pushing to possibly host part of the party’s massive convention in the state as early as August.
Another Stay-at-Home Order?
Will Humble, former director of Arizona’s health department, raised concerns when businesses began reopening.
He has since attributed the virus’s resurgence to people returning to their normal routines, as a result of businesses reopening and other restrictions being lifted.
“This is a phenomena that’s happening in Arizona,” Humble told FOX 10 on Sunday. “The stay-at-home order lifted and people’s behavior changed on a dime and went back to … pre-pandemic behavior.”
Humble has also said the state could need to return to earlier restrictions if numbers continue to grow worse.
“If the trends continue, I think we’re on a railroad track to field hospitals and/or another stay-at-home order,” he told KTAR on Monday,
Governor’s No-Go on Masks
Ducey has also tacitly refused to wear a mask in public, despite the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying it helps slow the spread of the disease.
Although he has not blatantly discouraged their use, the wearing of masks is also noticeably absent from his tweet of recommendations for cutting down the spread of the disease.
President Donald Trump has also, time and time again, refused to wear a mask. Party members have followed suit, with Republicans being less likely to wear them and more likely to actually oppose them.
Other healthcare professionals have stepped in to beg Arizonans to continue social distancing and other guidelines.
Banner Health officials said last week that the hospital system was seeing a “concerning” number of patients on ventilators and was close to having to enact its surge plan. They reminded the public to keep washing their hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, wearing masks in public, staying six feet apart from others, staying home if they’re sick, and avoiding groups or 10 or more people.
Dr. Kacey Ernst, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Arizona, has advocated for a cultural shift once again highlighting the severity of the pandemic.
“So many people still aren’t wearing masks. But people see leaders not taking these precautions and they hear the state is open and they let their guard down,” Ernst told The Arizona Republic. “Psychologically, it is hard to keep it going, but it is critical. This will get closer to home to people as more get sick.”