Gov. Doug Ducey won’t impose any new restrictions on individuals or businesses despite what appears to be a record number of daily COVID-19 cases and a trend that is pushing even higher.
And he has no plans to extend a moratorium on residential evictions once a federal ban on ousting tenants expires at the end of the month.
The Department of Health Services on Tuesday reported 12,314 new cases. That’s a figure that hasn’t been seen since the beginning of the pandemic.
There also were 23 more deaths, bringing the Arizona total to 6,973.
The numbers reflect what was reported to the agency on Monday, a figure that could include a spike in tests over the weekend. And with delays in those reports, the agency eventually sorts the tests based on the actual date the test is administered.
But what cannot be denied is that even the department’s own day-by-day delayed analysis, after sorting the numbers by actual test dates, shows there were a record 7,645 cases actually reported for Nov. 30. That compares with the June 29 peak of 5,452, the day that the governor concluded he had made a mistake in allowing bars, gyms, water parks and movie theaters to reopen.
“We’re fixing it,” Ducey said at the time when asked if he had screwed up in allowing bars to reopen six weeks earlier.
Since that time, though, the governor has relaxed his restrictions, allowing businesses to operate, abeit some at reduced capacity and if they promise to follow certain health protocols.
Those restrictions, though, appear to not be working.
It isn’t just that there are more people testing positive. That could be seen as a result of wider testing.
There’s also the fact that the percent of positive tests also is up — sharply.
For the current week, 23% of those who were checked out were found to have the virus. That compares with 18% the past week and 14% the week before.
The latest spike in positive tests could have repercussions down the road.
At last count there were 3,157 patients in Arizona hospitals with positive or suspected cases of COVID. The last time the figure was that high was July 17.
There also are 744 intensive care beds in use, also the highest since July. And while they represent just 43% of ICU capacity, the number of available beds, including people hospitalized for other reasons, dropped this week as low as 143, which is within 8% of total capacity.
Other indicators point to things getting worse absent some change in conduct.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation is predicting an average of 55 deaths a day by the end of the year, eventually reaching 73 by the third week of January. That’s even with a rapid rollout of vaccine to the highest risk individuals.
In his latest forecast, Joe Gerald, a doctor at the Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona, predicted dire problems with access to critical care due to shortages of space, personnel and critical supplies.
“If not addressed within the next one to two weeks, this crisis will evolve into a humanitarian crisis leading to hundreds of preventable deaths,” he wrote. “At this point, only shelter-in-place restrictions are certain to quickly and sufficiently curtail viral transmission.”
And even the latest report about Arizona from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, one of the sources Ducey has said he has relied upon, urges Arizona to do more.
“Mitigation efforts must increase,” the report says. That includes “no indoor gatherings outside of immediate households.”
And Ducey’s reaction to all this?
“It’s clear the numbers are moving in the wrong direction and are having a tremendous impact on our health care system,” said press aide C.J. Karamargin. But he had no announcements of any changes in the current regulations.
Ducey does have other powers to deal with the pandemic above and beyond health precautions.
In March he imposed a moratorium on evictions of renters affected by COVID-19, whether due to themselves or a family member with the virus or simply by virtue of having lost a job because of the outbreak. He said this is health related because keeping people in their homes helps prevent the spread of the virus.
Ducey extended his order several times before allowing it to expire at the end of October. But the governor noted at that time there would be no immediate effect because the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had imposed its own moratorium.
That federal bar itself self-destructs at the end of this month. And on Tuesday, citing the rise in COVID-19 cases and that Dec. 31 expiration, Democratic legislative leaders called on the governor to once again protect tenants from losing their homes and apartments.
But Karamargin sad the governor has no plans to step up, saying it’s a federal issue.
“This issues underscores the need for Congress to act,” he said.
Karamargin acknowledged, though, that the governor did not wait for federal action earlier this year. But he said Ducey believes that this should be part of the discussion going on in Washington about the next step in federal coronavirus relief.
But there was no commitment from Ducey to act if there is no new federal moratorium by the end of the year.
Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said that makes no sense given that the governor has advised people that the safest place to be is at home.
“You can only stay home if you have a home,” she said.
The most recent survey by the U.S. Census Bureau shows about 14 percent of Arizonans said they were caught up on their rent. And about 56,000 said they are very or somewhat likely to lose their homes or apartments in the next two months.
While Ducey is unwilling to react to the numbers, legislative Democrats have shown no such reticence.
Some of what they want is not new, like a statewide mask mandate.
Reginald Bolding, the incoming House minority leader, does not dispute the governor’s assertion that most of the state already is covered by local ordinances. But he said that’s not enough.
“We believe that more Arizonans will accept and take that responsibility for themselves and their neighbors,” Bolding said, saying the current situation creates “mixed messages.”
Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios wants an absolute ban on gatherings of more than 25. The current state restriction is at 50, but with a provision that allows for a local waiver.
Ducey did add a requirement last week for local authorities to demand and enforce mitigation measures on such gatherings like masks and social distancing.
Rios, however, said that’s not enough. And, unlike Ducey, she would have no exceptions for religious services, political gatherings and other activities that the governor has carved out as protected by the First Amendment.
“The reality of the situation is, we’re in a crisis,” Rios said. “And if everybody wants to pick and choose who they think should be exempt, then it doesn’t work.”
It’s not just Ducey who won’t recommend changes in what Arizona individuals and businesses should and should not be allowed to do.
“The number of cases added to the dashboard today is concerning but not unexpected,” said Health Director Cara Christ on Tuesday.
She said the agency anticipated an increase two weeks after the Thanksgiving holiday, the normal incubation period for the virus, as families gathered in increased numbers. In fact, in anticipation of another spike after the December holidays Christ is urging people to take additional precautions and limit contacts beyond their immediate families.