8-Hour Waits, 25% Positivity, and Desperate Pleas for Help: Managing the Crisis in Arizona

Arizona has quickly become one of the worst hotspots in the country for the deadly coronavirus. The state was one of the last to impose safety guidelines and restrictions and one of the first to lift them. Until recently, the governor has also been hesitant to mandate wearing facial coverings in public – and now the state is paying the price.

Patients are waiting over eight hours in the scorching sun to get tested, and 25% of tests are coming back positive. The state just surpassed 100,000 confirmed cases, and the numbers continue to climb dramatically as businesses get ready to close their doors for the second time.

Elected officials are pleading for help from the federal government. Can this state get the virus under control?

A State in Crisis

Arizona continues to grab national headlines as the coronavirus runs rampant. The state went from 50,000 cases to 100,000 in just two weeks. It has one of the highest positivity rates in the country, and many residents can’t get the help they need.

To maintain social distancing, they’re being asked to remain in their vehicles until a test is available. Streets are backed up and parking lots are full as some wait over eight hours in over 100-degree (F) heat. For some, running the A/C for that long just isn’t an option as they run low on gas.

Hospitals across the state are nearing full ICU capacity. Less than 10% of beds are currently available. At this point, it’s not clear where the state will care for additional coronavirus patients. Some may rely on load balancing to send patients to facilities in less populated areas and across state lines.

Federal Help on the Way?

Vice President Mike Pence recently met with Gov. Doug Ducey, calling attention to the public health emergency. The state is requesting an additional 500 healthcare providers. The VP said he has asked the Department of Homeland Security to deliver on that promise as soon as possible, drawing providers from the National Guard, among other agencies.

The Mayor of Phoenix, the largest city in the state, is asking for more testing centers and medical supplies, such as PPE and ventilators, in addition to more providers. She says she reached out to the federal government several weeks ago asking for more support, but they said the state didn’t have enough cases to qualify. Now, it seems the White House is listening.

Over a hundred providers have already been sent to the state. Officials are also working with the Federal Emergency Management Administration to develop an emergency healthcare plan, even though the department recently closed several drive-through testing sites.

Officials are concerned that the recent Fourth of July holiday weekend will further drive up the number of confirmed cases, as was likely the case with Memorial Day. The state could easily see another surge two weeks from now as more residents get tested and seek out medical care.

Too Little Too Late

What was notable about Vice President Pence’s recent trip to Arizona was that both he and the governor were wearing face masks, which has been a contentious issue in the state.

Arizona reported its first positive case of COVID-19 back in January, but it has yet to establish a state-wide policy for wearing masks. So far, they are only mandatory in certain cities and counties. The governor recently ordered bars, movie theaters, water parks, and salons to shut down, but that might not be enough to flatten the curve, considering how much the virus has already spread across the state.

Gov. Ducey held off on closing non-essential businesses back in March, when the pandemic first spiked across the country. He forced some businesses to close on the last day of March, two weeks after California and other neighboring states took similar actions. The governor didn’t refer to the shutdown as a “shelter-in-place” order; in fact, he encouraged businesses to maintain operations as long as they didn’t conduct any onsite transactions.

The initial order wasn’t exactly clear in more ways than one. In some areas, golf courses, salons, and bars never shut down at all. Several days later, the governor had to clarify his remarks to include these businesses. However, the order wasn’t enforced in many parts of the state, and some businesses outright refused to comply. Others, including a popular gym franchise known as Mountainside Fitness, are even suing the government to stay open amid the pandemic, claiming the order is a violation of their civil liberties.

Gov. Ducey then lifted this partial shutdown in early May, claiming to have the pandemic under control. But now, cases continue to surge across the state and the situation is quickly becoming dire.

This is just another reminder of the dangers of reopening too fast, not wearing face masks in public, and failing to issue clear prevention guidelines. Personal liberty reigns supreme in states like Arizona, but not wearing a mask and gathering in large crowds, especially indoors, is a public safety issue. While the governor is taking steps in the right direction, the state likely won’t have the virus under control until its residents change their behavior.

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