In the first media conference from the governor’s office in two weeks, Gov. Doug Ducey and Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ provided a COVID-19 update today as the pervasiveness of the virus grows daily.
Christ said throughout the state there’s been a “concerning increase” in coronavirus cases, percent positivity and COVID-19 patients in ICU and inpatient hospital beds.
To date, ADHS has reported 283,102 coronavirus cases. 6,365 Arizonans have died from the virus. Christ said during the week of Nov. 8, all but two counties had a coronavirus percent positivity above 10%, which indicates substantial spread of the virus.
This week, those numbers are expected to trend even higher.
According to Christ, each of Arizona’s 15 counties has a COVID-19 case rate above 100 per 100,000 people, which also indicates substantial spread of the virus.
COVID-19-like illnesses are also increasing visits to emergency rooms and hospitals, Christ said.
The public health director emplored mask wearing for all Arizonans “in every setting.”
Although he was not wearing a mask at the press conference today, Ducey reiterated the importance of mask-wearing, saying “Masks work, please wear them.”
However, he did not go as far as issuing a statewide mask mandate, reasoning “what I want to avoid is some of the division and politics that have happened around this issue.”
“We’ve got 90% of our state under local mask mandates, and what I want to do is take something that I believe works . . . and make sure we have the widest and broadest compliance possible,” Ducey said. “We’ve seen a lot of success with it at the local level where there is local buy-in.”
Although many COVID-19 safety protocols have been politicized, the governor says he isn’t taking a political stance on the pandemic.
“There are two extreme and distinct camps out there. One side wants to lock everything down, the other side thinks it’s all a hoax. Both are loud and vocal,” Ducey said. “Most of the public isn’t part of either camp, and by the way, neither am I.”
In response to the increase in COVID-19 cases, Ducey said “we’re amplifying our messaging and doubling our investment in public service announcements to ensure every individual in the state knows what steps to take to protect themselves and their loved ones.”
He also announced a $25 million disbursement of funds to increase hospital staffing and reward existing health care employees.
The governor said he’s asked Christ to work with Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Tucson International Airport and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport to increase inbound messaging and launch testing sites in order to “allow incomers to get tested immediately with quick turnaround.”
As schools across the state grapple with reopening amid rising case numbers, Ducey contends parents should have options to enroll their children for in-person learning and said “Kids have already missed out on far too much learning due to this pandemic.”
He said Christ will issue an emergency measure to ensure schools are following proper safety protocols.
Although many are growing tired of following COVID-19 mitigation tactics, he said, the end is not yet in sight.
“The truth is, this has been a long haul. You can’t simplify or underestimate the impact this has had on so many Arizonans," Ducey said. "When I say we just aren’t out of the woods quite yet, or that we need to redouble our efforts, I know that these are not easy asks . . . but it is our ask today.”
Ducey called the recent announcements from Pfizer and Moderna about possible coronavirus vaccines “a positive light at the end of the tunnel.”
According to Ducey, Christ assembled a vaccine task force at the beginning of the year that is actively working “to ensure the effective distribution” of the vaccines.
The governor issued an executive order to extend “the enhanced surveillance advisory” to gather information on potential vaccinations and distribution plans.
“This will ensure that all Arizonans who want the vaccine will receive the appropriate follow up doses at the correct time."
As Thanksgiving nears, Christ asked everyone to continue following safety protocol by wearing a mask, sanitizing frequently and socially distancing as much as possible. The health department recommends holding gatherings outside and celebrating virtually with those who are high-risk.