This Week in COVID: Ducey Says Arizona is "Open"

"Arizona's open," Governor Doug Ducey said at a press conference last week.
"Arizona's open," Governor Doug Ducey said at a press conference last week. YouTube
It's Tuesday, September 29. Over 217,500 Arizonans have been infected with COVID-19 and over 5,600 have died from it. In the last week, 3,259 cases and 145 deaths were added to the total. Here's what else happened:

Overall, COVID-19 numbers are holding steady. Besides the large bump due to backfilling antigen test results, we seem to have avoided a large post-Labor Day spike, said Joshua LaBaer, executive director of Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute, last week. We are seeing testing levels pick back up again, but LaBaer would like to see the state reach over 10,000 tests a day, and preferably as many as 15,000.

LaBaer criticized decisions to remove mask mandates like Scottsdale's mayor Jim Lane did last week. "Mask wearing is what is keeping the virus under control," he said. The Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce and the city's largest employer, Dignity Health, both issued statements opposing the move.

click to enlarge Monday's numbers. - THE COVID TRACKING PROJECT
Monday's numbers.
The COVID Tracking Project
Two counties may slip back into the "substantial" phase of community transmission, according to state data. Pima and Coconino counites have exceeded the number of cases per capita benchmark. The benchmarks were created by the Arizona Department of Health Services (DHS) to decide when certain congregate settings could reopen. In general, counties have to drop out of the "substantial" community spread category to begin reopening gyms, movie theaters and some bars that provided restaurant-style service at 50 percent capacity.

Don't expect them to shut back down, though. "We are starting to work with those county health departments to see if there are targeted areas where we can work specifically with those business owners. We want to avoid closing down," said Dr. Cara Christ, Arizona DHS director, at a press conference with the governor last Thursday.

Arizona is open for business. That was the message Governor Doug Ducey had at that press conference, which also featured the presidents of Arizona's three public universities.

"The expectation is that they're going to remain open. We are not going to be, due to a gradual rise in cases, making any dramatic changes. We should expect a rise in cases," Ducey said. It sounded like a return to the bullish Ducey from the beginning of the summer before a spike in cases claimed thousands of lives. The governor also repeated the same talking points as then, that an increase in case numbers reflected an increase in testing and that the rate of tests coming back positive and hospital capacity would be better indicators.

The presidents gave an update on their COVID-19 control efforts.
The University of Arizona still seems to have the worst outbreak of the three state universities. As of Monday night, U of A reported 708 positive tests in the last 10 days, for a 7.9 percent positivity rate. The university's seven-day average of cases has been decreasing steadily, though. ASU is down to 215 "active" cases of the virus with a total of 1,835 positive tests since the beginning of August.

The outbreak at U of A is coming from off-campus gatherings, said president Robert Robbins on Monday. University officials responded to nine off-campus gatherings over the weekend, including one with 100-plus people, but are seeing a decrease in the size and number of gatherings. Robbins said the university is also looking at the idea of using dogs to sniff out COVID-19.

Schools in Maricopa County have had 10 outbreaks of COVID-19, leading to 43 individual cases, since the beginning of August. The county, which now includes that information on its data dashboard, defines an outbreak as two or more people who came in contact and tested positive. It takes 28 days without a case for the outbreak to be considered closed and eight of them remain open. Thirty of the cases have been students and 13 have been staff members.

Some school districts are resuming classes, while others are sticking with a hybrid model, the Arizona Republic reports. In general, more wealthy districts are more likely to be returning to in-person instruction. Schools are facing some vacancies after 751 teachers left the profession this year.

People locked up in Arizona prisons say COVID-19 is widespread and not being addressed. Since late March the Republic has received nearly 90 letters from inmates with concerns.

The City of Phoenix is offering free COVID-19 testing in the next few weeks. This includes testing with Rapid Reliable Testing, a company that won a city bid to run testing sites. To find the best location for you and pre-register, go here.

You can also sign up for free, rapid saliva testing through ASU here. Anyone can sign up. ASU offers testing at multiple locations around the state throughout the week.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Erasmus Baxter is a staff writer for Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Erasmus Baxter