Ducey Changes Course as COVID-19 Numbers Get Bad — Really Bad

State public health director Dr. Cara Christ and Governor Doug Ducey arrived at the press conference wearing masks and used hand sanitizer before beginning.
State public health director Dr. Cara Christ and Governor Doug Ducey arrived at the press conference wearing masks and used hand sanitizer before beginning. Screenshot
Across the board, Arizona's COVID-19 numbers are trending in the wrong direction. Even Governor Doug Ducey has been forced to admit so.

At a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Ducey, who has in the past blamed increasing case numbers on increased testing, admitted his comments two weeks ago about a lack of a trend were no longer accurate.

"There is a trend," Ducey said. "And the trend is headed in the wrong direction."

Ducey also admitted that while he hadn't personally known anyone with COVID-19 for months, he now knows a number of people who were infected at grad parties.

On Wednesday, the state Department of Health Services reported 1,827 new cases, the second highest tally reported in a single day since Tuesday, when 2,392 cases were reported. (The current total number of confirmed cases in Arizona since the pandemic began sits at just under 41,000.) Similarly, the percentage of ventilators in use across the state has inched upwards, while Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds in use by all patients — not just those suffering from COVID-19 — has climbed to over 80 percent. Additionally, the percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive has spiked. In total, 1,239 have died from COVID-19 in Arizona, while state officials urged hospitals in early June to activate their emergency plans to handle a surge in patients.

Ducey emphasized that hospitals still have capacity to treat patients, although Dr. Cara Christ, the DHS director, said some have reached the 80 percent bed occupancy threshold and may have to begin shutting down elective surgeries. Christ said hospitals have not entered crisis care yet, though.

There's more bad news. Researchers at Arizona State University reported on Wednesday that the rise in Arizona case numbers is likely due to "increased community transmission" and that transmission of the virus has increased 40 percent since May 11, right around the time that Ducey's lockdown order was lifted on May 15. Their modeling also shows that, without a change in the transmission rate, there will be a "future exponential growth" in new COVID-19 cases and that hospitalizations and ICU bed use will continue to rise.

The researchers went on to assert that "decreasing the transmission rate" of COVID-19 depends on "increasing the adherence to strict social distancing, and particularly the wearing of masks."

To this end, Ducey announced he was changing his position from last week and allowing local jurisdictions to impose and enforce their own mask-usage guidelines. He attributed this change to feedback from local officials and showed a message he'd received from the mayor of Nogales.

Ducey also said he was encouraging all Arizonans to wear masks when they couldn't socially distance, but said the measure would allow tailored local guidance. While he has been criticized in the past for not wearing a mask in public, Ducey was wearing a black cloth mask when he walked in and carefully replaced it — after sanitizing his hands — at the end of the press conference.

He also said the DHS would be issuing updated guidelines for businesses on ensuring social distancing and limiting capacity, warning that the rules would be enforced if not followed. He said most businesses had been responsible but that there had been some "bad actors."

However, Ducey stopped short of imposing additional mitigation guidelines. Instead, he said they would be calling up 300 National Guard members in a "surge" to assist counties in contact tracing. They are also allocating $10 million for PPE and testing in nursing facilities.

In response to a question about an upcoming Arizona Trump rally, Ducey said the rally was exercising precautions.

"We're going to protect people's right to assemble in an election [year]," he said.

Meanwhile, national media and public health experts have flagged Arizona as one of several states, including Florida and Texas, where COVID-19 is having a resurgence as states reopen. 
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Erasmus Baxter is a staff writer for Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Erasmus Baxter
Josh Kelety is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Inlander and Seattle Weekly.
Contact: Josh Kelety