It was Friday evening, March 27, when I recorded the video below. Governor Doug Ducey and Arizona Department of Health Services Director Cara Christ had just announced that they would de-prioritizing Coronavirus testing in a state with already dismal testing rates, a climbing infection rate, and no statewide shelter in place order. Four Democratic mayors Kate Gallego (Phoenix), Regina Romero (Tucson), Cora Evans (Flagstaff), and Ana Tovar (Tolleson) bravely bucked the governor and called for the shutdown of bars and restaurants in their cities. Now LD11 Senator Vince Leach is threatening Evans and the City of Flagstaff with an SB1487 preemption challenge because their rule is more restrictive than Ducey’s executive order. Seriously, Leach? You’re more concerned about power and politics– than you are about widespread disease and death?
This is crazy. As they say, you can’t make this sh*t up.
Due to our country’s slow response and early denial of the pandemic’s severity, the US is now the worldwide epicenter for Covid19, and New York City is epicenter of the epicenter. Yikes. Arizona’s recent decision to downplay the lack of Coronavirus testing is troubling and dangerous to the public’s health.
From Arizona Public Media…
The Arizona Department of Health Services has started discouraging primary care providers from testing most patients, according to guidance issued Wednesday by ADHS director Cara Christ.
“The current reality in Arizona and the rest of the country is that there are not enough available supplies to meet testing demand.” she said. “Clinicians should consider removing this diagnostic ‘tool’ from their toolbox and managing patients with respiratory conditions as if they have COVID-19.”
Arizona needs more widespread testing to track and control the spread of the virus– not less. The number of confirmed cases in Arizona has almost doubled between my March 24 Coronavirus video and the March 27 video below. Now, on March 29, there are almost three times as many cases as there were five days ago. At that point, Arizona had 326 confirmed cases of novel Coronavirus, on Friday, there were 665, and today we have 919. The number of cases in Maricopa County has doubled in three days from 199 (March 24) to 399 (March 27) and is now at 545 (March 29). Pima County was at 42 (March 24) and more than doubled to 102 (March 27); now we are at 153 (March 29). Navajo County is also on the critical list. They have a relatively small population, compared to Maricopa and Pima, but for a while last week, Navajo was second only to Maricopa County in confirmed cases. Navajo had 32 cases (March 24) which jumped to 49 on Friday and 62 cases today (March 29). For the Navajo Nation as a whole, there are 115 confirmed cases. This is a tragic situation because their communities are far flung, roads are often rough, Internet is sketchy, and medical services are stretched thin… in normal times. These are not normal times.
The Coronavirus infection rate is climbing, but we really don’t know the extent of the problem in Arizona. Unfortunately, the reporting of these cases is artificially low because testing is so scarce in the state of Arizona. We are in the bottom tier of states for testing. Why is testing for the COVID-19 important? Testing shows public health officials where the infected people are, which facilitates follow-up with infected people, tracking the spread of the virus, and notification of potential victims. It also shows us where the outbreak hotspots are. For example in Navajo and on the east coast, they are blockading some towns and not letting people in or out to control the virus spread. The San Francisco Bay/Silicon Valley area has been on a strict Coronavirus shelter in place order ￼for more than a week, and this has helped them stem the spread and flatten the outbreak curve. Reducing the number of cases by tracking the spread of the virus decreases the likelihood that the healthcare system will be overloaded.
We need widespread testing in the state of Arizona, so we can see where potential hotspots are. The bridge tournament in Tucson over the weekend of March 7-8 (right before the social distancing recommendations from the federal government) has received attention because one of the attendees had the Coronavirus and exposed hundreds of other people. One woman who handled the cards of the infected man died; another person who spent time with him at the conference has tested positive. According to news stories, the Adobe Bridge Club is trying to contact the 700 conference attendees of their exposure, but the Pima County Health Department hasn’t. WHAT?!
That was not the only big event that spring weekend. Arizona List had their big Tucson-Phoenix luncheons on March 7 The featured photo above of Pima County Democratic Party Chair Alison Jones, PCDP Executive Director Cat Ripley, TUSD board member Leila Counts and myself was taken at that Arizona List luncheon. Probably 300 people, including almost every elected official in Southern Arizona, attended the Tucson event, and the Phoenix event was even bigger. That was also the weekend that Arizona Republican Legislators and Congressmen attended CPAC and a Trump Town Hall in the Paradise Valley/Scottsdale area. Are there Coronavirus hot spots near these big events? Who knows?
The Arizona Department of Health Services reports the total cases each day, statewide and by county and how many people were tested. I have not been able to find more detailed data. At a national conference last fall for state legislators, they talked about the importance of transparent government data. When federal, state and local governments put de-identified data online, random data nerds (like me), academics,￼ policy wonks, and college students can analyze it independently and potentially find trends– or mistakes. When you’re talking about public health data, more eyes on the data and more questions asked of the data are always a good thing.
We need more testing and more transparency. The state of Arizona needs to do better. We should be promoting testing, social distance, and sheltering in place, particularly in hot spots.
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