Only YOU can prevent the spread of coronavirus — because our feckless leaders won’t

Gov. Doug Ducey gives the latest Arizona coronavirus update during a news conference July 23, 2020, in Phoenix. Photo by Matt York/Associated Press | Pool photo

We’ve heard the same mantra for months: mask up, wash your hands, physically distance, yadda, yadda, yadda.

I don’t wish to downplay the message. We all need to do our part to control the spread of the coronavirus, and I’m glad our elected officials (at least some of them) are choosing to remind us on a regular basis.

But at this moment, words alone are not enough.

Last week, while many of us were enjoying our pumpkin pies and post-turkey naps, a team of COVID-19 modelers at the University of Arizona was penning a dire letter to the state’s department of health.

The pandemic isn’t simply surging in the Midwest. Rising infections in Arizona have placed our hospitals in an untenable situation. According to the researchers, “if action is not immediately taken, then it risks a catastrophe on a scale of the worst natural disaster the state has ever experienced.” Doing nothing “would be akin to facing a major forest fire without evacuation orders.”  

That sounds pretty ominous to me, and I’d prefer we take action now, before we’re in a situation that cannot be undone. Unlike Gov. Doug Ducey, however, I’m not in a position of power and cannot unilaterally act to keep our state’s residents safe and our doctors from having to choose which patients they care for and which ones they turn away.

And hasn’t that always been the goal of our mitigation efforts? To flatten the curve and prevent the rationing of care?

If so, then the governor and state health director better hurry up because according to the COVID-19 modelers at Arizona State University, our state’s ICUs will reach capacity in a matter of days — not weeks — and total hospital capacity will be exceeded before the end of this month.

Luckily for our governor, the modelers recommended a few steps he could take right now to prevent this catastrophe.

One is a statewide mask mandate, something our big city mayors have been requesting since this summer. A mask mandate doesn’t require any additional funds from the state and is the easiest thing a governor can do to slow the spread, but unfortunately for Arizonans, a mask mandate alone is no longer enough.

The modelers insist that a three-week shelter-in-place order that would close indoor restaurants and bars, coupled with emergency funding for small businesses and individuals affected by a closure, is needed — immediately. This is the only way we can keep daily infections below a level that will not overrun our hospitals.

Knowing that Ducey has been adamant about resisting another shutdown, the letter offered a small reprieve. It noted that if a statewide closure is not in the cards, then at the very least, the state should allow municipalities and counties the power to enact their own shelter-in-place orders.

Sadly, the urgency of the researchers’ memo seems to be lost on the governor and the state health director’s offices. Their official Twitter accounts continue to remind us to #maskup and stay home when sick while offering tips on how to #shopsafely during this holiday season, but that’s it.

There’s been no press conference or public statement to address the letter. No additional guidelines. No mandates. No worries.

Perhaps Ducey’s afraid a shelter-in-place order would result in another maskless, gun-toting rally of MAGA supporters at the Capitol or backlash from the Republican legislators who shun shared sacrifice. But I’d risk the hysterics of those groups any day over the possibility that a loved one could be turned away from an emergency room because there are literally no hospital beds or medical professionals available to care for him or her.

And if a revolt from his base is Ducey’s biggest fear, then he should allow the mayors and boards of supervisors—those who demonstrate courage—to act because the longer the governor stalls, the greater the risk that a parent or sibling or spouse or best friend will suffer a needless death.

I’ll do my part to help prevent that from happening. Governor Ducey, if you’re listening, please do yours as well.

Julie Erfle
Julie Erfle hails from North Dakota, but has called Arizona home for more than twenty years. She began her career in Phoenix as a creative services producer at KPHO-TV5 and 3TV. Blending her background in communications with her passion for community activism, Julie launched the political blog Politics Uncuffed in 2011, and began working as a communications director and consultant on candidate and initiative campaigns. She is the former executive director of Progress Now Arizona, a progressive communications and advocacy non-profit, and a fellow with the Flinn-Brown Arizona Center for Civic Leadership and Leading for Change.