President Donald Trump showered Governor Doug Ducey with praise for Arizona's handling of its COVID-19 outbreak during a meeting at the White House earlier this week.
But Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and some local public health and medical experts don't think adulation is warranted.
At the August 5 meeting, Ducey touted the state's promising COVID-19 trends, such as a slight decline in the the number of new cases reported daily and the state's dropping positivity rate, which experts say is a good metric of how quickly the virus is spreading. He cited his decision in late June to ban large gatherings and shut down businesses like bars and gyms as playing a significant role.
"We’re going to keep our guard up, we’re going to stay diligent, but there’s a real path forward," Ducey said. "It's on a downward trajectory."
"That's really great. Great job," Trump told Ducey, before prompting Dr. Deborah Birx to join in.
Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force similarly lavished praise on Arizona, calling its response a "model" that other states across the country can utilize to keep down cases while not shutting down their economies entirely.
"They just really did a great job putting these pieces together and really creating that path forward," Birx said. "We think this is a way to really decrease cases, decrease hospitalizations, decrease mortality."
But days later, on the morning of August 7, Joe Biden tore into Ducey's COVID-19 response in Arizona on Twitter, calling it a "Trump–Ducey model" that is "rushing reopening."
"Gov. Ducey is rushing reopening without adequate testing and contact tracing. He’s withholding support for increased testing and making local leaders plead for it," Biden wrote. "He’s refusing to implement a mask mandate and turning his back on older Americans and those at greater risk."
He went on to claim that the state's infection rate is "nearly 20" percent, and cited the 4,000-plus Arizonans who have died from COVID-19, ongoing lengthy delays in test results, the state's high number of hospitalizations, and the total number of cases, which have surpassed 185,000.
President Trump called Arizona “a model for applying a science-based approach to the decreasing cases and hospitalizations without implementing a punishing lockdown.” He said Governor Ducey’s approach should be used by other states—but here’s what’s really happening in Arizona:— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) August 7, 2020
Here’s how COVID-19 affected Arizonans under the Trump—Ducey model:— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) August 7, 2020
- An infection rate—still—of nearly 20%
- The fifth-highest number of current hospitalizations in the country
- More than 4,000 deaths from COVID-19
- More than 183,000 cases
- Lengthy delays in test results
Ducey promptly shot back on Twitter, telling Biden to "get the facts" on Arizona and "get out of the basement." He cited Arizona's dropping positivity rate and a figure from one model cited by the governor's office that claims that Arizona has the lowest infection rate in the nation.
"Come on man!" Get out of your basement, Joe, and get the facts on Arizona:— Doug Ducey (@dougducey) August 7, 2020
-Percent positivity between 9-11% for the first time since May
-The lowest R Naught in the nation at .86
-380+ testing sites, and growing
-And we're providing care and comfort to those who need it.
Some local medical and public health experts disagree with the rosy view of Arizona's response to the COVID-19 pandemic presented by Ducey and Trump.
For instance, around 200 Arizona physicians signed a petition calling on Dr. Cara Christ, the director of Arizona's Department of Health Services, to resign over the state's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. They argue that she failed to push for a statewide mask mandate and that the state's testing and contact tracing operations are inadequate. The petition was submitted to the DHS earlier this week, KJZZ reported. A spokesperson for the agency did not respond to New Times' request for comment.
"We, the undersigned medical providers, are discouraged by and distraught over the recent surge of Covid-19 in Arizona," the petition states. "We, as a healthcare community, have lost confidence in her and believe she [Christ] has demonstrated failure on multiple levels during this pandemic."
Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association and former director of the DHS, told New Times that Ducey's meeting with Trump and Birx was a blatant attempt to reframe Arizona's handling of the pandemic in public discourse. Ducey has previously been widely criticized for reopening the state too quickly and for resisting calls to implement a mask mandate, which critics argue made Arizona's COVID-19 resurgence one of the worst in the nation.
"They made it sound like this was just bad luck," Humble added. "This virus responds to policies, we know that. And it responded to a lack of good policy in May, June. It responded to better policy that occurred in late June."
Birx has a point about Arizona being a "model," Humble clarified.
"We were a great experiment," he said. "We showed the world... you can actually somewhat get yourself out of trouble if you roll back some of those big mistakes."
Meanwhile, Arizona continues to log an increase in deaths from COVID-19. Roughly 4,000 have died so far, and the state continues to report a relatively high number of deaths every day.
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