When everyone from Gov. Doug Ducey to Mayor Regina Romero is telling you the same thing, you should listen.
Tucson, it's time to stay home.
COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that is raging across cities in the United States and across the globe, is a diabolical killer. Symptoms can take up to two weeks to appear and in some cases, carriers may be entirely asymptomatic, so many people may be transmitting it without even knowing it.
We know it is here. We know our cases are growing every day; as of Tuesday, March 31, Pima County had 202 of Arizona's 1,289 confirmed cases. And thanks to a lack of test kits, those confirmed cases surely underestimate the actual number of infected people.
The virus had killed six Pima County residents as of Tuesday; 24 are dead across the state.
We've already seen one horror story this week: Sapphire of Tucson, a nursing home and rehabilitation center on Tucson's south side, announced this week that 27 of its residents and staff were confirmed to have coronavirus.
Staying home and avoiding contact with your fellow Tucsonans will slow the spread. That's why Romero—who has been ahead of other local jurisdictions and the state every step of the way—ordered many Tucson businesses closed over the weekend. As she put: "COVID-19 is not waiting and neither can we."
It's why Ducey laid down his own "stay at home" order on Monday, March 30, telling Arizonans to avoid unnecessary trips and gatherings. And while that was a good step, Ducey should certainly extend his order and reduce the number of businesses he has deemed essential; there's no reason we can't go a few weeks without a haircut or a game of golf. As much as those things are a comfort, stopping the spread of this highly infectious disease is the priority.
Slowing the spread—or flattening the curve—is a priority because we have already witnessed what happens when the virus gets out of control in places such as New York City, San Francisco and Seattle: It overwhelms the healthcare system.
The healthcare system is simply not set up to handle a pandemic of this nature. While hospitals are preparing as they best they can, following orders by Gov. Doug Ducey to eliminate elective surgery and otherwise clear space for COVID-19 patients, they are woefully short of protective gear. Last week, Pima County Health Department Director Bob England warned that even after Pima County got its share from the state's first shipment from the National Strategic Reserve, there wasn't nearly enough equipment. When the county tried to respond to the requests of local hospitals, they discovered they could only deliver 9 percent of the surgical masks, 3 percent of the goggles and face shields, and 2 percent of the gloves and only 1 percent of the gloves. "It was just a pathetic drop in the bucket compared to the need," England said.
Likewise, Pima County health officials struggled last week just to track cases through testing. Although test kits are now available, the new snag was a lack of proper swabs and test tubes to safely collect samples.
The looming crush on local hospitals is easy to predict.
"What we are seeing in NYC hospitals can and will happen right here in Southern Arizona several weeks from now without swift action by our federal, state and local leaders," said Matt Heinz, an emergency room doctor and former state lawmaker who worked on the domestic planning efforts to combat Ebola during a stint at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration.
This is going to be hard for many of us. We've already seen what's happening with so many small businesses—restaurants are hanging by their fingernails as they shift to delivery services. Bars are closed. Shops have few if any customers. Local concerts are on hold for the foreseeable future. Local theaters have gone dark. Hotels are empty. Businesses that depends on tourism are facing a rougher challenge than any they have ever faced.
Many people have already lost their jobs. Many more will before this is over. I am not minimizing any of that—and even a $2 trillion federal relief package won't be making everyone whole when this is over.
Despite those terrible consequences—which will be with us long after COVID-19 is put behind us—I am joining those who are telling you to stay home and keep your family safe.
For as long as I've worked at the Tucson Weekly, I never dreamed I'd be telling people to stay home. We spend every edition telling you to go see Calexico at the Rialto or Parasite at The Loft or the Go Figure show at Etherton Gallery or The Legend of Georgia McBride at Arizona Theatre or...well, the list goes on.
And I can't wait to be back in the business of telling you all about the wonders of our little burg—and its dirty little secrets, too.
But for now, I'm joining those urging you to stop going out. It's gonna be tough. People are going to take a huge hit. Not all of us are coming out the other side.
But the best way to ensure more of us are together when this is over is to remain in your home unless you need to make a trip or take a walk to get some exercise—and when you do, maintain your social distance.
Stay healthy. Stay strong. Stay home.