Ducey: virus surge not getting better any time soon The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Ducey: virus surge not getting better any time soon

Ducey: virus surge not getting better any time soon

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

G1ov. Doug Ducey refused last week to impose new restrictions or mandates on individuals even as his own health chief warned of an increasing number of Arizonans, including Mesa residents, becoming infected with COVID-19.

The governor dismissed the idea of a statewide mask mandate, calling it unnecessary given various local ordinances. Nor will he clamp down on existing occupancy limits at bars, restaurants, gyms or movie theaters or seek to curb their hours of operation.

The one key announcement he made was to provide $25 million to hospitals. But that is designed to allow them to hire more staff to care for those who become ill and give bonuses to existing employees.

Data released by the county health department Nov. 19 showed Mesa recording increases for all three benchmarks used to measure COVID-19 spread.

While data for both the city and Mesa Public Schools showed that between the weeks of Nov. 1 and Nov. 8 – the latest available – cases per 100,000 leaped from 130 to 229. That is an indication of substantial virus spread.

The two other benchmarks are now in the moderate spread category and one of those is inching close to the substantial-spread level.

Positive test results for both the city and school districts hovered around 9.9 percent, a notch below the substantial level.

Hospital visits with COVID-like symptoms for weeks had been in the minimal-spread category until the week of Nov. 8, when they climbed above 5 percent.

But some Mesa ZIP codes are well above the city-wide and district-wide levels, the data show.

In six Mesa ZIP codes – 85203, 85204, 85206, 85207, 85208 and 85210 – two of the three benchmarks were in the significant spread category. Cases per 100,000 in 10 Mesa ZIP codes were all above 200 with 85212 and 85213 recording the highest, 274 and 296 cases respectively.

Mesa Public Schools report that out of its 67,512 students and employees, there were 166 known virus cases, including 98 students and 68 adults. High schools accounted for 64 of the total cases.

Of the high schools, Mountain View and Mesa High recorded the highest number of cases, 19 and 15, respectively, while Westwood had the third highest with 12.

While many elementary schools recorded none or only one or two cases, Sousa Elementary reported 11. Sousa students will now be in remote learning until at least Dec. 2. The school is located in 85207, where cases per 100,000 are at 202 and positive new test results climbed into the substantial spread level at 10 percent.

Two East Valley districts, Kyrene and Tempe Elementary last week announced they were returning to all-virtual learning, Christ said the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive-care also is on the rise.

“These metrics are heading in the wrong direction,’’ she said.

Christ put in a plug for masks based on new research by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We know now that masks provide more protection than previously thought,’’ she said. But Ducey said he has no intent of imposing a statewide mandate for people to wear masks when they are outside, even following pleas from state schools chief Kathy Hoffman and Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego.

“I want people to wear a mask,’’ the governor said, “Masks work.’’

He said, though, a statewide mandate is unnecessary because local mandates already cover about 90 percent of the population. And Ducey said that the efforts by his administration to convince people to mask up “has got the maximum amount of compliance.’’

Then there’s the issue of enforcement of a statewide mandate given the kickback from some communities and counties that have either rescinded their mask requirements or never implement them at all amid public opposition.

“What I want to avoid is some of the division and politics that have happened around this issue,’’ the governor said, saying he prefers “participation and cooperation.’’

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation says just two thirds of Arizonans are masking up in situations where they are exposed to other.

The institute predicts that doing nothing will result in about 118 deaths a day by the end of January. By contrast, the researchers say that could be cut in half with a statewide mask mandate.

Ducey said he wants Christ and her department to work with officials at the state’s three main airports – Sky Harbor, Mesa Gateway and Tucson International – on what he called “inbound messaging’’ for passengers arriving from elsewhere “around the importance of wearing masks and information on where travelers can get tested.’’

He also wants the airports to set up on-premises testing sites available to travelers when they land. But there are no testing mandates for visitors or protocols for what happens if a test comes back positive. The governor said he anticipates that people will do the right thing on their own.

Ducey agreed that things will not be getting better in Arizona any time soon.

“That’s not on the horizon,’’ he said, saying the state and the nation remain in a public health emergency. “And getting back to normal isn’t in the cards right now.’’

Yet Ducey made a push for getting kids back into the classroom. “I think children should be in school,’’ the governor said. “I want parents to have options and one of those options should be in-person learning.’’

Ducey said he believes that is in the best interests of children, even as schools have wrestled with how to provide instruction and keep the youngsters and staffers – and, by extension, their families – safe.

“No one can argue: Kids have already missed out on far too much learning due to this pandemic,’’ he said.

The governor said that having schools open for learning does not mean compromising safety.

Christ also addressed the news on the national level about progress in developing a vaccine, saying she is anticipating having some available by the beginning of next year. But that, she said, will require navigating some logistical hurdles.

One is that this is going to be a two-dose series. That means whatever version someone gets the first time has to be the exact same version for a second shot anywhere from 21 to 28 days later.

And that, she said, will require the ability for her agency to call people back to remind them of the need for that second dose.

The Mesa Tribune contributed to this report.

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