Arizona is an example of how the coronavirus can devastate a region – and how aggressive action can lower the curve of cases.
«Arizoniens [are] really follow the mitigation measures that we have in place, ”said Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services.
As the virus spread uncontrollably in New York City in late March and early April, Arizona faced only a handful of cases. By the end of the month, only 24 people had died.
The state did not report more than 1,000 new cases in a single day until June 2.
This slow construction has given some residents a false sense of security. Gov. Doug DuceyDoug DuceyUS Faces Long Road On COVID-19 Amid Signs Of Improvement McSally Tells Supporters To ‘Fast A Meal’ And Donate To His Campaign State, Local Republicans Advocate For Postal Voting even though Trump denies it MORE (R) authorized the reopening of the first businesses closed on May 8 and his stay-at-home order expired on May 15, well ahead of orders in many other states. Arizona has also banned local governments from implementing orders requiring residents to wear face masks.
“Everyone wanted to get back to normal, but it just wasn’t safe,” Phoenix mayor said Kate GallegoKate Gallego Once COVID-19 epicenter, Arizona emerges from lockdown Congress should act immediately to craft an act of full recovery Phoenix mayor urges governor to issue nationwide mask order State, to close some businesses PLUS (D) said in an interview.
As summer temperatures hit triple digits, pushing Arizonans indoors, the number of cases has risen sharply. Two weeks after the first day of the state’s 1,000 cases, Arizona recorded 2,000 cases in a 24-hour period. Four days later, he affected 3,100 cases in one day. On the last day of June, nearly 4,800 residents tested positive.
“What’s really different about Arizona is around when we started to see an increase in cases, it was around when it was really hot,” Christ said. . “In the summer everyone is inside in the air conditioning, and in the winter we can go out and be physically far away.
The reproduction rate, the number of new infections caused by the average coronavirus case, peaked at 2.65 in May, according to estimates by PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In contrast, the reproduction rate in New York’s five boroughs never exceeded an estimate of 1.6.
Nurses and front-line doctors who had worked around the clock for months were being pushed to their limits. Hospitals had to prioritize who would receive treatment, and personal protective equipment was insufficient.
“July was scary. We were within the standards for crisis care, ”said Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association. “If you got sick in July, honestly you probably won’t get the level of care you expect.”
Much of the spread was due to younger people, who mistakenly believed they were invulnerable to a virus that makes the elderly and those with underlying illnesses pay for their worst sins. About half of the cases were diagnosed in people between the ages of 20 and 44, Christ said.
Gallego, who is 38, said she spent much of her time speaking to her peers.
“People in their 30s have a key role to play in slowing this spread. There is a story that only old people need to worry about this. This is not the case, ”she said.
Under pressure from city and county governments, Ducey lifted restrictions on local face mask requirements on June 17. Within a day, most major cities in Arizona had implemented warrants. A week later, Ducey ordered the closure of bars, nightclubs, gyms, theaters and tube companies.
“Masks aren’t going to fix everything, but they really save lives. It was frustrating for city councils and mayors not to have this tool, but I’m glad the governor changed his mind, ”said Gallego. The masks are “a physical reminder that we are still fighting COVID and that you cannot start living again like you did in 2019.”
Ducey did not implement a statewide mask warrant, like those in place in 25 states and the District of Columbia. But about 85% of Arizona residents live in a city or county that has one. Research from Arizona State University suggests that masks can reduce transmission by about 35%.
“While a state-level mandate may have been more effective, I sometimes wonder if decentralization and the ability to tailor the mandate to the needs of a specific community may have led to greater ownership and overall adoption of masks, ”said Kacey Ernst, who heads the epidemiology program at the Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona. “I was impressed with the sharp increase in the use of masks that I have personally witnessed.”
The number of daily cases peaked on July 11, and the number of people in hospitals and intensive care units peaked a few days later.
All three indicators have been declining steadily since. Arizona has reported fewer than 1,000 new cases in each of the past 15 days. Fewer than 900 Arizonans are in hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19, and only 311 are in the intensive care unit, according to state data analyzed by the COVID Tracking Project, an independent team of researchers.
“The face coverage requirement takes time to function. It’s not like this changes things overnight, ”Humble said. “Once you get people over the hump and get them used to wearing a face mask in public, it becomes a habit.”
The number of cases in eight counties has fallen enough to allow closed businesses to reopen, albeit with reduced capacity.
“It could be that the steady decline we’ve had is leveling off and starting to peak at a low level, or it could be that the cases are starting to increase,” Humble said. “This is the great experience. And I agree with that. You cannot stay locked up forever. ”
Public health experts and elected officials say they expect the number of cases to increase slightly as businesses reopen, school returns and flu season begins.
“I take warnings from public health officials that this fall could be a difficult time very seriously, with flu season on top of COVID-19. I know everyone wants to get back to what life was like, but our economy will come back faster if we take public health seriously, ”said Gallego. “Many people will no longer choose to participate in the economy as they did before a vaccine was available.”
But if Arizonans continue to use their masks, the state’s positive trajectory should continue to improve. PolicyLab models estimate that Maricopa County will suffer from around 240 new infections per day over the next four weeks, about one-fifteenth of the number of cases it saw at the height of the outbreak and a low enough level to prevent hospitals from being invaded.
“I would not make the recommendation now to lift the mandate of the mask,” Christ said. “We cannot let go. We must continue to wear masks.