Gov. Doug Ducey said the current rise in COVID-19 cases and emergency room visits was expected when he lifted the states's stay-at-home order on May 15.
Ducey and Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said at a press conference today that they anticipated the current increase in positive COVID-19 cases because testing has “dramatically increased” within the state.
Christ reported 8,227 staff and residents in skilled nursing facilities across Arizona have been tested for the virus. They expect to have tests done at all of these facilities by June 11.
She downplayed the alarm about the recent increase in cases, which some have attributed to the end of the stay-at-home order on May 15, saying “as people come back together, we know there will be transmissions of COVID-19.”
While they admitted new cases are to be expected when people begin to interact again, Ducey and Christ said their main focus was to ensure that hospitals had capacity for an increase in cases. They reported that current use of hospital beds, ICU beds and ventilators are all within capacity at this time.
“The fact that we were going to focus on having more tests means we were going to have more cases,” Ducey said. “We anticipated that. What we wanted to do was to be prepared for this.”
When a reporter asked if the state was willing to sacrifice people’s health in order to reopen the economy, Ducey said they mourn “every death in the state of Arizona,” and that every decision they made since the beginning of the pandemic has been to protect and save lives.
Christ and Ducey said they are focused on being able to care for the populations that are most vulnerable: those who are over 60 years old and/or have compromising medical conditions.
“We’re continuously monitoring the hospital capacity,” Christ said. “We are not in a crisis standard of care protocol right now. I don't think it will be a specific percentage that will trigger that, but looking at the totality of the data.”
Christ said there is currently a lag in the testing data, and they anticipate to see if the new cases are coming from the places specifically targeted with testing, or if it is simply community spread. As of right now, they don’t know the answer.
Ducey opened his weekly press conference by calling the death of George Floyd an “American tragedy.”
Floyd, a black man, was killed in Minnesota on Memorial Day when a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes over suspicion of a forged check. He was unarmed.
His death has sparked protests, both peaceful and destructive, across the nation. Arizona’s protests last week prompted the governor to order a statewide 8 p.m. curfew.
Ducey said he had a discussion with African American leaders this past Sunday, which produced a list of “deliverables” that he hopes to see enacted through the legislature or other avenues.
The governor also thanked law enforcement officers for protecting against the small group of people who rioted in major cities last weekend.
“Arizona will not confuse peaceful protestors and demonstrators with looters and rioters,” Ducey said. “We will maintain peace and order to respect George Floyd’s memory.”
Colonel Heston Silbert with the Arizona Department of Public Safety said he had seen “nothing as horrific and tragic as what happened to George Floyd.” He said the people who rioted and destroyed property “hijacked the cause,” and now with the governor’s curfew in place, people are peacefully protesting in 100+ degree weather.
“They care about his cause, they care about what's going on, they care about the improvement, and we care,” Silbert said. “We understand that we’re only as strong as the violations that one person commits. We all have to answer for that, but if improvement comes from that, I hope for better days ahead.”
He said police reform and accountability has grown “leaps and bounds” since the Rodney King riots in 1992. When asked about the recent death of Phoenix resident Dion Johnson, a black man who was killed by a DPS officer who found him asleep in his car on the side of the road, Silbert said there is currently an internal and external investigation going on.
He told the press the name of the officer would not be released at this time because of a policy that precludes them from doing so.
Democratic state lawmakers have requested that Gov. Ducey include legislation about law enforcement reform in his plans for an emergency session. When asked about this at the press conference, Ducey said he will work with legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle and that his January agenda previously called for funding of body cameras for all Department of Public Safety officers to wear.
“I believe there are things we can do in Arizona from training to diversity of our law enforcement officers to how we interact with the citizen,” Ducey said. “I think there's a lot that can be done.”