With most Arizonans now living under mandatory face mask requirements while in public for the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak began, Gov. Doug Ducey warned that things are going to get worse before they get better. And even when they start getting better, they’re going to be bad for a while.
One week after reversing course on allowing cities and counties to impose their own mandates and two weeks after chiding the media for spreading “misinformation” about the burgeoning crisis, Ducey was at his most somber since the outbreak began, imploring Arizonans to stay home whenever possible, and to mask up and practice social distancing when outside the house, among other precautions.
The governor opened his weekly press conference on Thursday by quoting Dan Blumenthal and Nicholas Eberstadt, who wrote in the conservative National Review earlier this month that “the COVID-19 pandemic is the single greatest global peacetime catastrophe that humanity has suffered since the end of the Second World War.” And he continued with that stark tone for the next hour as he warned Arizonans about the trouble that lies ahead and what can be done to alleviate it.
Even with new masking rules in place for about 75% of the state, Ducey warned that those changes will take several weeks to show results.
“I don’t want there to be any illusion or sugar-coated expectations: We expect that our numbers will be worse next week and the week following in terms of cases and hospitalizations,” he said.
COVID has an incubation period of up to 14 days, and infections that Arizonans contracted in the weeks prior to the new mask mandates will take time to show up, just as the rise in cases that followed the expiration of Ducey’s stay-at-home order in May took several weeks.
Prior to the new mask restrictions, Ducey had focused heavily on hospital capacity while dismissing the severity of Arizona’s rising caseload. Cases were rising because of increased testing, he said, and the state’s hospitals had plenty of in-patient and intensive care unit beds for those who got sick.
On Thursday, he said hospitals still have the capacity to handle more cases. But for the first time, he warned that hospitals will likely have to tap into their “surge capacity” — expanded capacity that can be added if necessary — very soon. Statewide, 85% of in-patient beds were filled on Wednesday, including 88% of its ICU beds, a record high since the outbreak began.
Ducey and Dr. Cara Christ, the director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, devoted much of the press conference to reiterating the precautions that Arizonans should take to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus, which, as of Thursday morning, had infected 63,030 people in Arizona and killed 1,490.
Ducey noted that the percentage of COVID-19 tests that turn out positive on a daily basis has been rising steadily, as has the number of Arizonans who are hospitalized each day with the virus.
The governor emphasized that people should wear face masks when they go out, stay home unless absolutely necessary and physically distance from others when they do go out in public.
If people take away one message from his press conference, Ducey said it should be that they are safer at home. Ducey and Christ urged Arizonans to limit the number of people they interact with outside of their home.
Ducey said the state can’t let up, and if changes are needed, Arizona needs to redouble its efforts to contain the disease.
“I want to enlist every Arizonan in this battle because you personally can make a difference for our state and our nation, and most importantly for your neighbor, for your family, for your parents and grandparents.”
Though Ducey stressed the need for people to act responsibly, saying his guidance “is not another executive order to enforce,” he emphasized that there has already been enforcement of the new rules that went into place over the weekend.
Unlike the period after his stay-at-home order ended, when Scottsdale nightclubs and Mill Avenue bars flouted the restrictions that were theoretically still in place, state and local authorities have already taken action. Ducey said Scottsdale on Tuesday charged the Riot House bar with violating social distancing requirements, and that the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control sent “final notices” on Wednesday to that bar and seven other establishments.
That list includes three Scottsdale bars owned by the parents of his health policy advisor, Christina Corieri.
The availability of COVID-19 tests has become a growing problem in Arizona, and people reported waits of up to 13 hours at one testing site in Maryvale over the weekend. Ducey vowed to address that problem, and to decrease the wait time for test results.
“We need more tests and we need more efficiency around the tests. No one should have to wait hours and hours for a test to be conducted,” he said.
Christ said the state recently added 62 testing sites across the state, and is looking especially to add new sites in Maryvale and elsewhere in the west Phoenix area. The state is working with community partners to expand access to testing, and is offering other assistance, such as the use of the National Guard to help with traffic and parking, transporting test kits to laboratories, and providing lab testing if needed.
And Arizona is ramping up its contact tracing program, which allows health experts to track down people who have been in contact with COVID-19 patients and determine how far the disease might have spread. As part of that contact tracing system, Christ said the state will send saliva-based coronavirus tests to people who have been in contact with people who have contracted the virus so they can test themselves at home.