PHOENIX – Gov. Doug Ducey defended his plan to reopen the state Thursday, attributing concerns about the stark increase in the number of positive cases to misinformation and increased testing.
“We put the stay-at-home order in place so that we can prepare for what we’re going through right now,” he told reporters at a news conference.
The rise in Arizona COVID-19 cases has piqued concern from national experts, drawing attention to the growing infection rate and uptick in hospitalizations. The increase in cases comes just a few weeks after Ducey lifted stay-at-home orders on May 15 and Arizonans flocked to Memorial Day events across the state.
“It’s important that people know we are not seeing an increase in patient volume, we are prepared if that increase should come,” Ducey said. “The facts are, we got an increase in testing, an increase in testing and an increase in positive test results. So we’re going to continue to stay laser-focused on COVID-19.”
According to data from the COVID-19 Tracking Project, Arizona and South Carolina are the two states that “appear to have the most dire situations right now.”
Ducey pointed to a large increase in testing as an explanation for the climbing numbers. Even so, less than 6 percent of Arizona’s 7.2 million residents have been tested to date.
In an interview Wednesday with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, raised concerns about Arizona and more than a dozen other states.
“We’re seeing a lot more cases, especially in states like Arizona where the numbers are really scary,” Jha said, adding that those who believe the summer heat will reduce cases are engaging in “wishful thinking.”
Still, Ducey assured Arizonans that hospital capacity is adequate and the state is prepared to “expect the worst” with sufficient numbers of ventilators and hospital beds.
As of Thursday, June 11, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 31,264 cases of COVID-19 and 1,127 deaths in the state. It said 429,327 tests for COVID-19 have been completed in public and private labs in Arizona, and 7.3 percent of tests have come back positive for the virus.
The number of occupied intensive care unit beds also has reached a record high since data collection began March 26, with only 22 percent of ICU beds available in Arizona as of Thursday, according to ADHS. Hospitals, including Banner Health, the state’s largest, told Cronkite News that they already are at full capacity and need to defer patients to other hospitals.
Dr. Daniel Derksen, a professor of health studies at the University of Arizona, said the rise in hospitalizations and cases is “almost certainly” influenced by lifting the stay-at-home order.
Maricopa County officials urge mask-wearing
Maricopa County Public Health Executive Director Marcy Flanagan urged residents on Wednesday to wear a cloth face covering when social distancing is not possible. Maricopa County, Arizona’s most populous, accounts for more than half of Arizona’s total confirmed cases as of Thursday.
“Why we are pushing masks so hard is because we know that individuals don’t want to go back to a stay-at-home order,” Flanagan said at a briefing Wednesday. “We’ve heard that loud and clear.”
Rep. Gallego criticizes Ducey’s COVID-19 response
U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Arizona, sent Ducey a letter asking him to take more action to address the continued rise in COVID-19 cases. “Clearly, Arizona is going in the wrong direction,” Gallego wrote. “What does your administration plan to do about it?”
Tempe groups demand CARES Act funds be taken from police
Tempe has earmarked $22.5 million for the Police Department from the CARES Act, but such groups as Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro, Arizona Youth Climate Coalition and Semillas Arizona are calling for those funds to be reallocated to free transit passes, Tempe’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund and the free Pre-K Program, according to the groups’ shared Instagram posts. The City Council on Thursday also will vote to approve the 2020-21 fiscal budget for city departments, which, as it stands, will allocate more than $102 million to police – 13 percent of the city’s overall department budget.
Administrative office on the Hopi Reservation will temporarily close
First Mesa, on the Hopi Reservation in northeast Arizona, has temporarily closed its Consolidated Villages Administrative Office to have the building sanitized. The closure comes with the “increasing number of positive cases in First Mesa,” Administrator Ivan Sidney in a press release.
Hospitals adapt to keep beds available as surge tests system
As hospital beds continue to fill, Phoenix nurses shared their “soul-crushing” experiences while working on the front lines of the pandemic. Cronkite News spoke to health experts who noted that hospitals still have room to make adjustments, but actions must be taken quickly to meet demands.
How to help
Immigrants Like Us is a nonprofit affiliated with Harvard University that works with low-income immigrants across the nation to help families receive green cards, become naturalized or renew their DACA status without in-person meetings or fees. Many low-income immigrants have had few places to turn since the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services went dark because of COVID-19. Those interested in getting involved can find more information on the group’s website.
For more stories from Cronkite News, visit cronkitenews.azpbs.org.