PHOENIX – Gyms, bars, nightclubs and more will remain closed past next week as the state continues to fight a disease that is “highly contagious and in every part of the state,” Gov. Doug Ducey said Thursday.
But even as he urged people to stay home and practice safe hygiene, Ducey declined to require the use of masks statewide, instead unveiling an advertising campaign, “Tougher than COVID,” that urges people to wear masks voluntarily.
“I’d ask you to continue to be vigilant,” Ducey said. “Whether you’re in Phoenix or Tucson or a rural area, the virus is still present.”
The comments came in a wide-ranging news conference in which the governor tried to walk a tightrope between touting improvements in the state’s number of COVID-19 cases and warning residents that the virus still presents a threat and people need to brace for what Ducey called a new normal.
They also came the same day that the state crossed the 3,000 threshold for deaths. The Arizona Department of Health Services reported 84 deaths Thursday to bring the total for the state to 3,063.
“There’s no victory lap today, there’s no celebration,” said Ducey, who extended condolences to the thousands of Arizona families who have lost a loved one to the disease.
Ducey said that the state is seeing a flattening or slight decrease in what he called critical measurements of the disease, including the number of hospital beds, intensive care beds and ventilators in use.
He said the “R-naught” number – the rate at which one person with the disease spreads it to another – has remained below the key threshold of 1.0 since July 15, and is currently at 0.98.
“To my eye, Arizona is the greenest state in the nation,” Ducey said, as he displayed maps from various news organizations that showed the change in the number of cases, with green being the best.
Even with that, however, Ducey announced an extension of his June order that closed bars, gyms, movie theaters, water parks and tubing operations through July 27. He did not put an end date on the closure order, which he called part of the “unhappy, but necessary business of breaking up large adult gatherings,” but said it would be reviewed every two weeks.
Ducey and Dr. Cara Christ, the director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, also announced plans to expand testing in the state and improve the speed with which tests are returned. That includes an expansion of the use of a new saliva-based test developed by Arizona State University, as well as investments in more tests, more collection sites and more labs to process the results.
Christ said the state is getting help from CVS, Embry Women’s Health, Banner Health and others. The new goal with the surge testing will be to turn around test results “in 48 to 72 hours,” Ducey said.
But they also noted that current testing efforts have been hampered by spotty demand, pointing specifically to testing sites in Maryvale where turnout was just 28% of capacity.
While he repeatedly cited the state’s “safer at home” slogan, Ducey also got some backup in the persuasion department Thursday, unveiling an public service campaign designed by advertising companies in the state to help spread the message.
He played videos of an ad, in Spanish and English, that showed a boxer wrapping his fists before sparring and saying that cloth protects him and others, before looking at the camera and saying that wearing a mask “doesn’t make me feel weak.” That ad and others are expected to run on TV, social media and billboards around the state.
As of Thursday, July 23, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 152,944 cases of COVID-19 and 3,063 deaths in the state. It said 1,037,924 tests for COVID-19 have been completed in public and private labs in Arizona, and 12.5.7% of tests have come back positive for the virus that causes the disease.
VA hospital takes in some non-vets with COVID-19
The Department of Veterans Affairs recently opened 10 beds — five acute care and five intensive care — at the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center to COVID-19 patients who are outside of the veteran system, according to a report on ABC15.com.
It said the Hayden Center accepted its first three non-VA patients on July 11. VA officials say the decision to open space to non-veterans came in response to a request from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state in the face of surging cases. The Phoenix VA said it has also dispatched nurses and supplies to Kayenta, Tuba City and other parts of the Navajo Nation.
“We made the decision to open these beds because we’re confident in our ability to continue our primary mission of caring for our nation’s Veterans,” said a statement from Dr. Alyshia Smith, director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System.
Guadalupe offers three days of free testing
The town of Guadalupe launched a COVID-19 Response Team in June 19 to aggressively push practices to contain the spread of the disease, including face coverings, testing, distancing and hygiene in response to alarmingly high infection rates in town. As part of that effort, the town is offering free testing to community members this weekend.
The town has scheduled free COVID-19 testing to residents from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday and from 7 a.m. to noon on Saturday at the town hall. No pre-registration is needed, residents can just walk up and register.
Coronavirus cancels 2020 Tucson Comic-Con
Even super heroes are not immune to the threat of COVID-19: Organizers of the Tucson Comic-Con posted a note on their Facebook page earlier this month that said the event would be canceled this year, tucson.com reported this week.
The notice referred to the spike in cases that made Arizona a COVID-19 hot spot as one of the reasons for the cancellation. “People really look forward to it, but we want to make sure the people who go are safe,” convention creator Mike Olivares said. “We were taking the health of the community into consideration.”
Olivares said organizers had talked about the possibility of the coronavirus affecting the convention as early as January, but it was still a largely isolated disease and Olivares said at the time he “didn’t see the convention not happening. If coronavirus happened here, I thought things would probably be under control by November.”
It is one of several large-scale Tucson events that have been forced to cancel or scale back. The All Souls Procession scheduled for November canceled all in-person activities earlier this month, opting for online workshops and a streaming “burning of the urn.” Film Fest Tucson, the Tucson Celtic Festival and Scottish Highland Games, and the Dusk Music Festival have also announced cancellations, tucson.com reported.
Navajo successes held up as model for others
The deputy secretary of the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department said the Navajo Nation’s gains against the pandemic should make it a case study for other governments to follow, according to a report by KOAT.
“They’ve just been a really strong model of self governance and really what it looks like to be a sovereign government during this time,” said Nadine Padilla, the deputy secretary.
Her comments came as Navajo leaders announced that cases were on a downward trend after months of being in the triple digits.
The nation once had the highest infection rate in the country, but now the nation is reporting some of the lowest numbers since the pandemic hit with only 24 new cases on Monday, and 25 the day before.
Navajo President Jonathan Nez said the tribal government did not do anything special, it just listened to health professionals, listened to the data and listened to the community. That led to decisions early on that included a mask mandate in April, regular weekend lockdowns and nightly curfews.
“The Navajo people should be commended for abiding by the public health orders,” Nez said. “We brought these professionals together, round table discussions, and we listened, and we incorporated those recommendations into public health orders.”
Nez said this week that the tribe is considering plans to begin reopening government, possibly as early as next week, but has not made a decision yet.
Tucson Mayor hosts mask giveaway
Tucson Mayor Regina Romero and Council Member Paul Durham will host a free COVID-19 mask giveaway from 7 to 10 a.m. Saturday at the Donna Liggins Recreation Center.
The event will have drive-thru lanes for cars and bicycles, as well as a line for pedestrians. Romero and Durham will also visit Tucson House, a public housing complex, to give face masks to residents there, according to a release from the mayor’s office.