Photo by Phil Roeder, Creative Commons
Photo by Phil Roeder, Creative Commons

Arizona is seeing progress in curbing the spread of the coronavirus, but we still have a long way to go.

Many people in Arizona are breathing a sigh of relief as some of the key statistics about the spread of COVID-19 improve. While we should recognize this encouraging news, our state and our country still have a long way to go before we start celebrating.

First off, let’s acknowledge that reopening before suppressing the virus isn’t helping the economy. Economists have gone on record saying that the only way to “restore the economy is to address the pandemic itself,” pointing out that until we boost testing and develop and distribute an effective vaccine, many of us will not participate. 

While Arizona has seen some progress recently, according to the Covid Exit Strategy Map more than seven percent of coronavirus tests came back positive over the last week. That’s still more than double the threshold that public health experts have set for being able to contain the virus and reopen safely. And Arizona’s rate of new daily cases is eight times higher than the recommended level for reopening safely. 


Shut it down

In fact, public health professionals are calling for policymakers to do what it takes to dramatically slow the spread of the virus. More than 1,000 health professionals — from epidemiologists to emergency room physicians to mental health workers — from Arizona and across the nation, have now signed an open letter urging state and federal policymakers to shut it down, start over, and do it right this time to save lives. 


If it’s not essential, it can wait

To contain the virus and save lives: Non-essential businesses should be closed; Arizonans should stay home, going out only if they work in an essential service, to get food and medicine, or to exercise and get fresh air; and masks should be required in all situations, indoors and outdoors, where we interact with others. 


Protect essential workers

Essential workers, from medical professionals to grocery store clerks, should get the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to stay safe while they save lives or keep critical services running. Using PPE is one of the most effective methods to slow the spread of COVID-19, and there still isn’t nearly enough. 


Thinking ahead

If we do this properly, numbers will recede to a level at which we have the capacity to effectively contain future outbreaks through robust testing and contact tracing. Once the rate of new daily cases falls drastically and the rate of people testing positive gets to 3 percent or below, as laid out by the Harvard Global Health Institute and Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, we can try slowly reopening, taking one step at a time at spaced-out enough intervals to accurately measure the effects. 

If we don’t take these actions, more suffering and death will likely follow. To protect lives, we are going to have to continue to sacrifice some of our quality of life in the short term. 

Ultimately, our individual actions are important, but we won’t succeed if our leaders don’t lead.  We need to be told the truth, even when it’s hard. We need decision-makers to unleash the resources needed to contain the virus: ramping up testing, building the infrastructure for contact tracing, and providing a safety net for those who need it. And we need bold action to save lives — including shutting down again and reopening only after the public health criteria are met.


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