- Arizona’s coronavirus cases have jumped from around 20,120 on June 1 to more than 128,000 on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
- Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located, has nearly 65% of the state’s cases.
- Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego says the city is struggling with insufficient testing capacity, a high positivity rate in COVID-19 tests, nearly full morgues, and tired healthcare workers.
- Arizona’s ability to control the outbreak requires Gov. Doug Ducey to issue a statewide mask mandate, she said.
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A few days ago, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego drove past a long line of cars. They were all waiting for coronavirus tests.
Some people were forced to sit for eight, 10, or even 13 hours to get a nasal swab despite an excessive heat warning, she learned.
On Monday, 26% of COVID-19 tests conducted in Phoenix come back positive, she said. The World Health Organization recommends that governments implement a stay-at-home order if more than 5% of tests in a region come back positive over two weeks.
“I know people in my community are suffering with both their health and economically so it’s a very tough time. I’m deeply concerned,” Gallego told Business Insider.
Arizona has recorded more than 128,000 COVID-19 cases and 2,300 deaths, based on data from Johns Hopkins University. About 65% of those cases and 51% of the deaths have been in Maricopa County, where Phoenix is. The county morgue is at 96% capacity, Gallego said, and frontline medical workers are exhausted. It’s taking up to nine days for some Arizona residents to get their test results back.
She thinks Arizona’s alarming spike in COVID-19 cases came because the state reopened too early, and because Gov. Doug Ducey did not offer a consistent message that all Arizonans should wear face masks and stay 6 feet apart.
The worst thing is that so much of this disaster was preventable, she said.
“If people had followed common-sense precautions, they likely … would not have contracted the virus,” Gallego added.
She’s one of five Arizona mayors who wrote a letter asking Ducey to impose a statewide mask mandate, bolster testing and contact tracing, and shut close-contact venues like nail salons, barbershops, and indoor restaurants. Without decisive, statewide action, “more lives will be needlessly lost,” they wrote.
“If the governor does not want to implement them himself, we would like the legal authority to do it,” Gallego said.
‘I wish we were in a very different position so far into COVID-19’
Ducey’s stay-at-home order expired on May 15, before the state had reported a 14-day downward trajectory in new cases — the White House’s recommended benchmark for a safe reopening.
Over the last six weeks, Arizona’s coronavirus cases have exploded. On June 1, the state reported more than 1,000 new cases for the first time. Then it reported more than 2,000 new infections on June 10, 3,000 cases on June 17, and 4,000 on June 22. Its highest single-day jump — 5,339 new cases — came on June 29.
Ducey responded to that record by ordering a 30-day pause on the reopening of bars, gyms, water parks, and movie theaters. His executive order also banned “organized public events of more than 50 people.”
The governor issued another executive order on Thursday that limits restaurants’ indoor dining capacity to 50%.
As of Monday, 1,498 of Arizona’s ICU beds — 88% of the total available in the state — were occupied.
“It’s heartbreaking to be at this point months after our first case,” Gallego said. “I wish we were in a very different position so far into COVID-19.”
Young people make up 50% of Arizona’s coronavirus cases
Gallego said the coronavirus has become “unnecessarily political,” when we “should be following scientific experts.”
Neither President Donald Trump nor Ducey, a Republican, have consistently stressed that “masks are essential and we should stay home as much as possible,” she added.
In fact, Trump has routinely dismissed the need to cover his face in public. On Monday, he retweeted an allegation that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is lying about the pandemic to jeopardize his reelection chances. Meanwhile, Ducey was caught on camera at a party on June 6 where he wasn’t wearing a face mask or maintaining social distance.
Reopening Arizona led many people, mostly young adults, to congregate in crowded places like nightclubs, Gallego said. They mistakenly believed that the coronavirus didn’t pose a threat to them and that it would peter out in the hot summer months, similar to the flu. Instead, the heat is driving more people indoors, where they’re even more likely to pick up the virus or transmit it to others, she said.
People ages 20 to 44 now make up 50% of Arizona’s COVID-9 patients.
Gallego said she’s worried both about getting through this initial wave and about the state’s readiness for another possible wave of coronavirus cases in the fall or winter.
“The combination of a bad flu season and COVID-19 is quite scary,” Gallego said.