Last Wednesday Governor Ducey extended his stay at home order by two weeks. He received praise from some Republicans and many Democrats. But when taking a closer look, we should be concerned. The order indicated a willingness to ease restrictions including modifications for retail and restaurants. Scaling back public health protections before we have clear criteria and data to justify such actions puts Arizonans at risk. It minimizes the public health crisis as it is being experienced by the Navajo Nation. It ignores the heightened risk faced by people in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and our community members who are incarcerated or detained.
The Arizona Daily Star’s Justin Sayers and Alex Devoid point out, despite the Governor’s excitement to get the economy going again, the criteria recommended by public health and infectious disease experts in order to ease restrictions are not being met in Arizona. A plan for re-opening must be dependent on a significant increase in testing and/or plans for strategic testing models that will allow us to better estimate the prevalence and incidence of COVID-19. In addition to a robust testing plan, the criteria used to determine easing of public health protective measures (e.g., physical distancing) include the ability to implement wide-spread contact tracing and support for Arizonans who need to isolate or quarantine if they receive a positive test result (e.g., paid leave similar to paid sick leave). Arizona also needs a plan for surveillance that will help identify future COVID-19 flare-ups and a plan for what actions we will take in the case of future increases in cases.
Democrats like Regina Romero, Mayor of Tucson; Ramon Valadez, Chairman of Pima County Board of Supervisors; and the Democratic Caucus of State Legislators released statements confirming a commitment to using data to determine easing restrictions. We, and democratic officials, need to ensure this type of criteria based plan, using available data, and integrating an understanding of the limits of available data, is implemented at the state level. The response to the Governor’s easing of restrictions should be to ask how the decision was made, based on what criteria, and using what data.
Enthusiastic support for a seemingly criteria-less relaxation of public health protections is troubling. This tweet by Rep. Chavez came just a day before (4/29) the US experienced its deadliest day (5/1) so far in the COVID-19 epidemic, 2,909 Americans died in 24 hours.
This tweet is premature and its optimism ignores both the data we have and thoughtful analysis of how the data we don’t have could be skewing perception of readiness to re-open. We don’t know if Arizona’s COVID-19 cases are low. Arizona ranks close to last among states in testing of its population. Making the claim that “Arizona is doing a great job in keeping numbers lower than other states” is simply wrong-headed. The data we do have do not support this claim, and the data we are missing should prompt towards caution, not optimism. Additionally, healthcare workers do not lower numbers of cases, sheltering in place, responsible use of PPE and working as a community does that. Healthcare workers become the tragic last step in responding to the spread of the virus.
We understand the devastation of the stay-at-home order. Businesses are made up of owners and employees who are struggling. Federal aid is not getting into the hands of those who need it most and this has increased the urgency of a steady paycheck.
A too quick return to business as usual puts workers and customers at risk. Many Arizonans do not have a choice about whether to show up for work. Essential workers have highlighted the lack of public health and labor protections when they were forced to continue to work. When leaders signal that we are safe to return to work without clear criteria and limited data, it is a disservice to the people who rely on them to keep us informed and safe.
Anyone, Democrat or Republican who is calling for re-opening or easing of public health protective measures, without specifying the criteria that must be met in order to ease restrictions, is putting us at risk and making the argument that our lives only have value if we are buying and consuming. We reject this premise, no matter which party promotes it.