White House Coronavirus Task Force: Arizona needs ‘aggressive’ statewide measures

By: - December 8, 2020 3:49 pm

Flatten the curve, the Arizona way

A document prepared for the White House Coronavirus Task Force late last month concluded that Gov. Doug Ducey is not doing enough to combat COVID-19 in Arizona.

“Arizona is experiencing a full resurgence equal to the summer surge but without the needed aggressive mitigation across the state,” the task force wrote in the Nov. 29 document, which includes status reports on all 50 states. Throughout the pandemic, the weekly reports have been shared directly with governors.

The document was obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit newsroom based in Washington, D.C.

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    Contributed to DocumentCloud by Jim  Small (Arizona Mirror) • View document or read text

The White House coronavirus officials noted that Americans are facing a “historic high” risk from COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, with confirmed cases more than seven times higher and hospitalizations about triple what they were during June and July. 

“We are in a very dangerous place due to the current, extremely high COVID baseline and limited hospital capacity; a further post-Thanksgiving surge will compromise COVID patient care, as well as medical care overall,” the task force wrote in its report on Arizona.

“New hospital admissions in Arizona are rapidly increasing and mitigation must be increased.”

That hasn’t happened. On Tuesday, a record number of Arizona coronavirus cases were reported. On Monday, state health officials reported there were less than 150 ICU beds available across the state and that only 10% of hospital beds were available, the lowest figures since the pandemic began in March.

Since the pandemic began in March, Arizona has reported more than 378,000 cases. More than one in four of those — almost 29% — have come in the past month.

So far, 6,973 Arizonans have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began. July still holds the record for the deadliest month for the virus, taking the lives of over 2,000 Arizonans. In the past month, 803 have died from the illness.

Coronavirus surge has Arizona hospitals, ICUs at record capacity levels

As the Trump administration has done since the early days of the pandemic, White House Coronavirus Task Force said it was incumbent on states and local governments to implement policies to limit the spread. 

And if those policies aren’t in place, “all public health officials must alert the state population directly.” 

Among the things the Arizona Department of Health Services was urged to tell Arizonans are:

  • Those older than 65 or who have significant health conditions “should not enter any indoor public spaces where anyone is unmasked due to the immediate risk” of infection, and they should have their groceries and medications delivered
  • Anyone under the age of 40 “should assume (they) became infected during the Thanksgiving period” if they celebrated the holiday with anyone outside their immediate family

The White House Coronavirus Task Force also called on Arizona to “ensure” that masks are worn at all times in public places and implement “significant reduction in capacity” for all indoor spaces — specifically restaurants and bars. 

Ducey has resisted calls for a statewide mask mandate, instead telling cities and counties they should enact their own.

In mid-March, Ducey ordered restaurants to shut down their dining rooms, but they were allowed to reopen in mid-May. After a spike in Arizona coronavirus cases that began in late May and continued through June, Ducey on July 9 limited restaurants to 50% capacity. 

On that day, there were 4,057 confirmed COVID-19 cases announced, and the seven-day average of new cases was 3,606. On Tuesday, Arizona reported 12,314 new cases, and the seven-day average is 5,860 cases a day. Almost 29% of the state’s cases since the pandemic began have been reported in the last 30 days.

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Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications, the Yellow Sheet Report and Arizona Legislative Report. Under his guidance, the Capitol Times won numerous state, regional and national awards for its accountability journalism and probing investigations into state government operations.