Maria Polletta Arizona Republic
(CNT) City News Talk #arizona
In late May and early June, just weeks before Arizona experienced one of the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks, Gov. Doug Ducey repeatedly sought to reassure his constituents.
He noted the increase in confirmed cases was expected, given expanded testing; contrasted Arizona’s experience with that of harder-hit states, such as New York and Washington; and for weeks resisted putting more aggressive measures in place.
Ducey returned to those themes on Thursday during an afternoon news briefing, warning against “conflating” Arizona’s situation with that of the nation at large as reporters pressed him on the state’s worsening COVID-19 metrics.
“It’s different here in our state than it is in other states,” he said. “Arizona is in a position right now where we need to be vigilant and keep our guard up, but the rise in cases, the concern at the hospital level, is not happening in the state of Arizona at this time.”
It may be soon.
COVID-19 is spreading through the state at its fastest rate since June, according to infection tracker rt.live. On Tuesday, Banner Health officials said if recent upticks in case counts and hospitalizations continue, hospitals could meet or exceed the number of COVID-19 patients seen during the June and July surge. And Ducey himself acknowledged there “is a storm is ahead of us.”
Nonetheless, the Republican leader announced no new preventive measures on Thursday, instead of pointing to existing strategies such as restaurant capacity limits. He contended the state had already “learned what works to combat this virus.”
“I am proud that Arizona is open, that our economy is open, that our educational institutions are open and our tourist destinations are open,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat and longtime critic of Ducey’s pandemic response, swiftly criticized what she described as further inaction from Ducey on Thursday.
“The best thing to do when you see the very recent past (early June) repeating itself is … nothing. Wait, that doesn’t seem right,” she wrote on Twitter.
“AZ, don’t wait for (Ducey) to take action. You can take steps to protect yourself & your family. Wear a mask, stay home, & avoid gatherings.”
Christ: Don’t underestimate risks
Many of the businesses targeted for closure at the end of June have gradually reopened in the months since, and students in districts throughout the state have slowly resumed in-person learning. The state also relaxed its recommended guidelines for schools last week.
State Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ insisted Thursday that health officials remained “on high alert” but indicated Arizona would be better prepared for a COVID-19 surge this time around.
“Our actions to date include increasing access to testing, increasing hospital capacity and ensuring businesses and schools are partnering in mitigating the spread,” she said, as well as working to boost the number of Arizonans vaccinated against the flu to keep them out of hospitals this winter.
“Over the last few months, we’ve worked to build up our lab capacity, ensuring every Arizonan has access to COVID-19 testing with quick turnaround times … and we’ve enhanced contact tracing at the state and local levels to ensure that once a case is identified, every effort is made to contain it from spreading further.”
Hospital staffing seemed to be Christ’s only immediate infrastructure concern. While plenty of beds are available in Arizona, she said, complex cases of COVID-19 can require specialized care not every medical professional is trained to provide.
Christ also urged residents not to underestimate the risks inherent in even small get-togethers over the next few months, emphasizing the importance of social distancing and mask-wearing even with relatives.
“Anytime you come into contact with somebody … that doesn’t live in your household, you are putting yourself at risk,” she said.
Health officials are expected to issue guidance soon on how to safely celebrate during the holiday season.
“I hope that I am wrong, but what I would anticipate is to see a spike about 10 to 14 days after Thanksgiving (that would) then potentially continue to increase over the next four to six weeks,” Christ said.