Anyone who tuned into Thursday’s press conference hoping to hear a plan from our leaders about how Arizona will reverse the terrifying trend of COVID cases the past few weeks walked away knowing one thing for sure: They have no plan.
Maybe that’s unfair. After all, Gov. Doug Ducey, who has marketed his approach to this crisis as #TheArizonaWay, said over and over (and over and over and over) that Arizona had plenty of space in its hospitals to treat the Arizonans who catch the coronavirus and develop COVID-19.
And given the spike in cases that has happened since he lifted his stay-at-home order in late May – the curve that was once flattened now appears exponential, with a 76% jump in cases in just two weeks – you can bet there will be a lot of them.
What we learned Thursday is that the entirety of the plan is for people to keep getting sick while our governor and public health chief tell people they need to stay six feet apart, wash their hands and occasionally wear a mask.
Will that actually do anything to change the trend? Ducey and Cara Christ, the director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said similar things – except for the part about masks – nearly a month ago, when the governor said we were free to go back to restaurants and taverns and barbershops and fitness centers.
But of course people stopped being vigilant and stopped wearing masks (if they ever did) and stopped keeping their distance from others – they were told the pandemic was solved by none other than Ducey himself.
“We are clearly on the other side of this pandemic,” he said May 12 when he announced that his stay-at-home order would expire on May 30.
That boast seemed ridiculous even in the moment, as Ducey was forced to concede to a reporter’s questioning that he didn’t know if COVID infections had even peaked in Arizona. And no longer would the government tell people what to do to stay safe during a pandemic. “What an Arizonan decides to do is up to them,” he proclaimed.
In reality, this was Ducey’s gambit the whole time. It cut against his very being to place the severe restrictions on commerce and people’s mobility that he did all the way back in March, when he ever-so-briefly demonstrated firm leadership in the face of a crisis.
But that lasted only a few weeks, and ultimately wilted in the face of growing opposition among a small, if not incredibly vocal, cadre of selfish malcontents in his party who care more about the harm done to the economy than to their neighbors. Once it became clear that a growing number of GOP lawmakers were siding with the money-over-health crowd and they began discussing an open revolt of his executive orders, he crumbled.
His path to political safety wasn’t to use “enhanced physical distancing,” as he termed it, to be able to build up a testing and tracing regime that would allow Arizona to open and then quickly address small COVID outbreaks before they became large outbreaks. Our testing rates are abysmal, and the contact tracing operations are meager.
Instead, Ducey bet all his chips on boosting hospital capacity so that he could confidently proclaim that Arizona was ready for whatever happened. And why not? Summer heat was just around the corner, and Dr. Trump told us that the virus will die off when summer arrives.
“This is what we’ve been in preparation of,” Ducey said Thursday when asked if his focus on hospital capacity was tone deaf when people were contracting the disease by the thousands.
Preparing the hospitals for a surge was a good thing to do. It just shouldn’t have been the only thing he did.