COVID-19 cases may be reaching record highs, but that's okay because you can go to the hospital after you get sick. That's essentially the message a defensive Governor Doug Ducey gave at a press conference today.
"The fact that the worst-case scenario is not here today is positive news," Ducey told reporters.
The press conference came after Maricopa County reported its worst week yet in terms of cases, and Banner Hospitals said it was having capacity issues due to an influx of patients.
Arizona has also attracted national attention for its spike in cases, but Ducey blamed that on misinformation. He produced graphs showing that hospital and ICU bed capacity were around 75 percent occupied, but only around 15 percent of hospital beds and around 25 percent of ICU beds were being used by COVID-19 patients.
The governor's office also released a letter on Thursday from Arizona's largest hospitals, including Banner, saying that they had the necessary bed capacity and plans in place for surge capacity.
"Recently there have been local and national media reports regarding the increase in confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in Arizona and how our state is managing the COVID-19 crisis," the letter said. "As representatives of the largest health systems representing 80% of care provided in this state, we would like to assure the public that we have available bed capacity and surge plans are in place to continue to serve the people of Arizona. We are well prepared to manage an increase in patient volume."
However, it is possible some hospitals are reaching a level where they would need to re-shut down elective surgeries under the governor's March emergency orders.
According to Dr. Cara Christ, Arizona Department of Health Services director, if hospitals reported being over capacity, they would working with them to ensure the data was accurate, and then to try and lower the number of filled beds.
Ducey backed away from blaming the increased cases solely on increased testing, as he had previously, noting that the percentage of positive tests was "not the direction we want to go," but emphasized the gains the state had made in hospital capacity since the beginning of the pandemic and said the stay-at-home order had been meant to allow time to build up to the current capacity.
"We're going to continue our gradual and phased-in re-opening," he said.
Christ put it more bluntly: "We're not going to be able to stop the spread, and so we can't stop living as well," she said.
Neither Christ nor Ducey acknowledged that fatality rates among those hospitalized have been as high as 21 percent in one large study. In response to a question about a Tucson mother left with liver damage from COVID-19, Ducey said he was glad the health care capacity existed to get Arizonans the care they needed.
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Will Humble, the former head of the state DHS and current executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, told Phoenix New Times earlier this week that statistics proved the jump in cases is directly attributable to removing the stay-at-home order.
Ducey also said he would not allow local jurisdictions to impose their own COVID-19 restrictions at this time.
"I will continue to believe the government closest to the people is best except in a global health pandemic," he said.
Instead, Ducey and Christ emphasized the importance of individual measures to prevent the spread of the disease. Ducey pulled a mask from his pocket for the first time since his factory tour with the president and insisted that, despite the lack of photographic evidence, he wears it when necessary. After the event ended, he placed it back in his pocket and walked out.