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An update on extended closures

As COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket, Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday ordered the closing of bars, gyms, movie theaters, water parks and river tubing for at least one month.

Ducey also said Arizona would delay the start of the school year to Aug. 17 from Aug. 6.

Ducey warned that Arizonans will see more cases of COVID-19 before the numbers begin to decrease.

"Our expectation is, our numbers will be worse," said Ducey, who repeated his call for Arizonans to mask up when in public, stay home as much as possible, wash their hands and keep a physical distance from others.

The Department of Health will also activate its "crisis standards of care" and cancel non-emergency surgeries.

Just a few days earlier, on Thursday, June 25, Ducey told reporters he had no plans to order new shutdowns to combat the spreading virus. But Arizona's numbers have skyrocketed in June. At the beginning of the month, the state had roughly 20,000 confirmed cases. By June 30, that number had nearly quadrupled to 79,215.

In addition, hospitals were pushed to the limit in June. As of June 30, Arizona had a record 2,793 hospitalized COVID patients, including a record number of 683 in ICU wards. In the latter half of the month, it was common for emergency rooms to see more than 1,000 people seeking help each day.

Banner Health Chief Clinical Officer Marjorie Bessel announced over the weekend that the hospital network, which treats about half of Arizona's hospitalized COVID patients, was reaching its limit as it activated its surge plan and balanced its load of patients among its facilities. Banner is calling in additional health care workers from around the country.

"We are absolutely experiencing a surge of COVID-19 patients that are coming in for care, and we are starting to get full," Bessel said. "We do have plans, however, to continue to increase our capacity so that we can meet the demand of the communities and all the people that we serve in there. But we do ask everybody to follow all the things that we can do to try and reduce the curve of spread."

The decision to delay the start of the school year comes as parents are deciding whether to send their kids back to school or move to an online option that districts are offering. Options differ across districts.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman did not join Ducey for the press conference but released a separate statement.

"What Arizona's numbers will look like by Aug. 17 remains unclear," Hoffman said. "But one thing is for certain: If efforts are not taken across the entire state to curb the spread of this virus, our schools will only continue to face complications in reopening their facilities."

In a press conference last week, Ducey—who said when he lifted his stay-at-home order in mid-May that the state was "clearly on the other side of this pandemic"—warned the worst days of the outbreak still lay ahead.

"I don't want there to be any illusion or sugar-coated expectations: We expect that our numbers will be worse next week and the week following in terms of cases and hospitalizations," Ducey said. "This is Arizona's first wave, and this will not be our last wave."

Ducey noted the greatest growth was among people ages 20 to 44, who generally do not face the worst symptoms of the disease but are capable of transmitting it to parents, grandparents and others who do.

"COVID-19 is widespread in Arizona," Ducey said. "It's in all 15 of our counties. It's growing, and it's growing fast across all age groups and demographics. Anyone can get this virus, and anyone can spread this virus."

Despite the increase in cases, Ducey called the situation manageable, but said the state needs to change directions by applying all the knowledge it's learned in the past few months and remaining "vigilant, flexible and humble as this virus presents new challenges at every turn."

Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said the state is also working with private partners like SonoraQuest and TGen to expand private testing in addition to an increase in testing locations and availability across Arizona. While more than 50,000 collection kits have been distributed to healthcare partners, labs and local health departments, residents in low-income areas of Phoenix were waiting for hours in drive-thru lines to get tested earlier this month.

Christ also said those who go out should consider how many people they will interact with when they leave their home. Meeting new people outside of their "quarantine bubble" carries great risk, Christ said. She advised the public to wear face masks when around other people, especially when you can't maintain six feet of space. Christ said this is especially important because asymptomatic carriers can still spread COVID-19 and potential put other lives at risk.

"Just because somebody doesn't look sick, doesn't mean they aren't carrying the virus," Christ said. "The closer you are to other people who may be infected, the greater your risk for coming down with COVID-19."

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