Arizona sees surge in coronavirus cases, public health experts link increase to hasty reopening

Public health experts say the surge in Arizona’s coronavirus cases reflects the state’s rapid reopening.

Arizona's confirmed number of daily cases hit a high on June 8, with 1,373 cases reported in a single day, according to data from the Arizona Department of Health Services. But the state has routinely recorded over 1,000 new cases on several days over the past few weeks. The latest data confirms 1,233 new cases reported on June 14 bringing the then-total number of positive cases in the state to 35,691. On Monday,  the health department also reported an additional three deaths, bringing the total number of COVID-19 deaths to 1,186.

According to these numbers, the state’s weekly average of daily cases has nearly tripled from two weeks ago, NPR reported.

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Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey lifted the state’s stay-at-home down order on May 15, and during a recent news conference, Ducey credited the surge in positive cases to increased testing efforts.

"The increase of positive tests is not the direction we want to go. We want to go in the other direction," Ducey said on June 11.

Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey answers questions after announcing the latest coronavirus numbers and recent spike in cases during a news conference in Phoenix on June 11. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool,File)

Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey answers questions after announcing the latest coronavirus numbers and recent spike in cases during a news conference in Phoenix on June 11. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool,File)

Additionally, there is no requirement for face masks in Arizona, though their use is recommended. Elective surgeries also resumed in the state on April 22.

“We had our arms around the PPE issue in the state of Arizona at that time,” Ducey said at a June 11 news conference.

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Experts, however, have said the rise in cases correlates to the state's earlier reopening efforts.

"Perhaps, Arizona will be a warning sign to other areas," Katherine Ellingson, an epidemiologist at the University of Arizona, told NPR. "We never had that consistent downward trend that would signal it's time to reopen and we have everything in place to do it safely."

The spike in cases in Arizona is the consequence of lifting restrictions too quickly without a public health system that can keep pace, Dr. Peter Hotez, dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told the outlet.

"It was just 'open it up' and then more or less business as usual, with a little bit of window dressing," Hotez said. "This is not an abstract number of cases. We're seeing people pile into intensive care units."

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During the June 11 news conference, Ducey said the state will “continue to take a calm and steady approach.”

Ducey had also said the state was continuing to build capacity with additional beds in intensive care units, but remarked that those additional beds weren’t needed.