This Week in COVID: Masks Work, Phoenix Reopens Park Facilities

The CDC says masks curbed Arizona's COVID-19 spike over the summer.
It's Tuesday, October 13. Over 226,000 Arizonans have contracted COVID-19 and more than 5,750 have died from it. Here's what's happened in the last week:

New cases have ticked back up slightly. Arizona's big drop in case numbers from the July peak appears to finally be at an end. The average number of daily cases statewide has flattened out and appears to be increasing. Current numbers are back to where we were at the end of August with an average of 711 new cases each day.

That increase is reflected in hospital bed usage. In a sign that the increase in positive tests is not just a result of more testing, the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 has reached 667, around where it was at the beginning of September. Intensive Care Units statewide are still only about 70 percent full, with around 9 percent of total capacity being used by COVID-19 patients.

Experts have warned that we will start to see an increase in cases as flu season approaches and snowbirds return to the state. Arizona's R number, the rate at which the virus is spreading, is greater than one, meaning that the rate of spread is increasing. Currently, every 100 people with COVID-19 infect an additional 103 people, according to the metric.

The COVID Tracking Project
Mask mandates are responsible for ending COVID-19's summer rampage in Arizona, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. A report credited the imposition of mandates covering 85 percent of the state's population for flattening the curve of infection that peaked in July and leading to a drop in cases that enhanced the effectiveness of other mitigation measures, such as bar closures. The mandates came after Governor Doug Ducey, who had previously prohibited local jurisdictions from implementing such measures, flip-flopped in response to pressure from local mayors and the rising death toll.

The Phoenix City Council voted to reopen outdoor park facilities. This will apply to bathrooms, ramadas and other outdoor features the city had previously closed due to COVID-19. Mayor Kate Gallego noted that Dr. Anthony Fauci has said being outdoors is safer in regards to COVID-19. The council will look at reopening some indoor city facilities in two weeks, depending on how case numbers look. The city council is consulting with a University of Arizona epidemiologist on a number of considerations, including approval of a haunted house.

The city also spent $307,000 of COVID-19 relief money on erecting posts and chains to displace homeless people. The expense was discovered by a landscape architecture class. A local service provider says the move scattered people across the city.

Arizona State University President Michael Crow sent a letter to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors last Wednesday asking them to stay strong on the county's mask requirement. Crow pointed out that the mandate has only been in place for 90 days and said that, as well as addressing the health impacts of COVID-19, wearing masks is a measure that protects the local economy. While the Supervisors have made no public announcement about action on the measure, they have met privately to consult on the mandate with legal and public health experts. The city of Scottsdale repealed its mask mandate, but no actual change resulted because the county's order remains in effect.
ASU currently has eight known cases of COVID-19 among staff and 121 among the student body. Twenty-eight of those cases are on the Tempe campus and 87 are off-campus. Around half a percent of the tests conducted by the university through its random testing program are coming back positive, though that number excludes students who seek out testing. Overall, just short of 2,000 cases have been associated with the university.

The University of Arizona is down an average of four new cases a day. Back in its peak in mid-September, the university was averaging 181 new cases a day. With the drop in cases, it is moving forward with having some classes meet in-person on campus this week.

Arizona's universities have gotten some national media attention for their COVID-19 response. The Wall Street Journal spoke with community assistants, ASU's version of resident advisers, who described being on the front lines of the school's COVID-19 outbreak. The Atlantic did a deep dive on U of A's reopening.

A state representative from Avondale who was put on a ventilator for COVID-19 is recovering. Lorenzo Sierra's wife tweeted that he was off the ventilator and the feeding tube had been removed. The representative tweeted over the weekend that he will now need to relearn how to eat and walk. Sierra and his wife contracted the virus while visiting family in Washington D.C.
Speaking of D.C., despite the president's current COVID-19 case, members of his disease-ridden inner circle continue to fly to Arizona. Ivanka Trump held two events in Phoenix yesterday. Present at one was Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, who contracted COVID-19 at one of his campaign events after refusing to enforce COVID-19 restrictions.