A week after the governor’s shelter-in-place order was allowed to expire, accelerating the reopening of businesses across Arizona, many remain concerned and confused about social distancing and how to stay safe during the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of Thursday there had been 1,551,095 confirmed COVID-19 cases nationally, a jump of 22,860 cases since the day prior. The agency reported 93,061 associated deaths since the outbreak began.
According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, there were 15,608 cases confirmed statewide with 775 deaths as of Friday morning.
Of Arizona’s estimated 7.2 million residents, 245,486 tests have been administered, representing about 3.4% of the state’s population. Among those screened, 5.7% tested positive for COVID-19, according to AZDHS.
The Maricopa County Department of Public Health reported 7,888 confirmed cases with 13% of those patients being hospitalized and 4% requiring a stay in the intensive care unit as of Friday morning.
But the agency sounded a note of optimism in a Wednesday press release, noting while cases continue to be confirmed, lower rates of hospitalization reflect increased testing but not necessarily increased danger.
“One month ago, 18% of all known positive COVID-19 cases in Maricopa County required hospitalization. 6% required intensive care treatment. As more COVID-19 testing has become available, the hospitalization rate has fallen. Public Health data over the past few days shows 13% of Maricopa County residents with COVID-19 have required hospitalization, and 4% have gone to the ICU. This reflects more people with mild illness being tested. Public Health continues to emphasize that most people who get COVID-19 recover at home with fluids and plenty of rest,” agency officials stated in the May 20 press release.
One week after launching what he described as Phase One of reopening Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey on Wednesday signaled a wait-and-see approach to further easing restrictions.
“I want to extend my gratitude to our citizens, who are returning safely into economic participation,” Mr. Ducey said during his May 20 press briefing. “What the people of Arizona are doing is working. We have slowed the spread of COVID-19. We have hospital capacity. We’re ramping up the testing blitz. We’re seeing the symptoms dropping and businesses can continue to open.”
Though he said he’s seen no evidence that relaxed social distancing measures would lead to a spike in coronavirus deaths, Mr. Ducey said he’d be willing to bring back restrictions if necessary.
“We want to continue to practice social distancing. That’s what’s going to be important going forward so we can continue to return smarter and return stronger,” he added.
However, despite widespread hopes of stimulating economic activity, a plurality of consumer remained skeptical about the pace of reopening, according to a May 8 ABC News/Ipsos poll, which found two-thirds of voters worried about increasing death rates related to the virus.
“Sixty-four percent of Americans say opening the country now is not worth it because it will mean more lives being lost,” the pollster reported at its website, Ipsos.com.
And while more businesses have opened up, some businesses are more attractive than others to those concerned about contracting the disease, according to another Survey released by Ipsos on May 15.
“Americans are more willing to participate in essential activities and are less willing to participate in non-essential activities or those that involve large groups of people,” the pollster stated.
While a majority of respondents plan to available themselves of some essential services, other types businesses may have more difficulties in brining in customers, the survey reveals.
Activities like grocery shopping (91%), going to work (71%) and getting a haircut (56%) drew popular support; but going to the gym (27%), spending time at a bar (24%) and attending sports events at a stadium (19%) drew skepticism from respondents.
Another local poll of 600 likely 2020 General Election voters conducted May 9-11 by OH Predictive Insights revealed a majority still worry the pace of reopening the economy may be unsafe, according to a May 18 release.
“While the government has given the green light to reopen businesses, a majority of Arizona voters are idling at a flashing red light,” stated Mike Noble, chief research and managing partner at OH Predictive Insights. “More than 60 percent of voters are still extremely or moderately concerned about the spread of the Coronavirus in Arizona.”
Fifty-two percent of respondents told the pollster they were more concerned about the potential of additional deaths; while 32% said they were more concerned continuing restrictions would lead to greater harm to the economy.
Continuing safety efforts
Local governments and health experts continue to urge caution, especially when interacting in public settings, to reduce the likelihood of contracting or spreading the virus.
Dr. Marjorie Bessel, chief clinical officer at Banner Health, told Daily Independent continuing social distancing and sanitation practices will be necessary until better treatment and a vaccine are available to combat COVID-19.
“As stay-at-home restrictions begin to ease in Arizona and other states, people are starting to venture out of their homes, and some are even returning to work. But that doesn’t mean that the virus has gone away — or that there is a vaccine or a cure,” Dr. Bessel stated.
The doctor recommends a number of measures, likely already familiar to local residents, such as continued social distancing, frequent hand washing, maintaining face and mouth covering with carefully fitted masks, keeping up healthy habits and staying home.
The governor has also issued specific guidance for reopening various types of businesses and facilities at his website: azgovernor.gov/governor/reopening-guidance.
Patrons at barber shops and salons, for example, are urged to stay six feet apart from others; don’t touch eyes, nose or mouth; use touch-less payment options; use hand sanitizer; and wash hands thoroughly after appointments.
Those at risk due to underlying health conditions — such as anyone 65 and older — are recommended to avoid such establishments, as well as restaurants, gyms, public pools, retail stores, spas, massage therapists, places of worship, shopping malls, theaters and casinos.
According to the CDC, those at higher risk of sever illness from COVID-19 include anyone 65 or older and those living in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
Preexisting health conditions, which can increase likelihood of severe reactions to coronavirus include chronic lung disease, asthma, serious heart conditions, obesity (with a body mass index of 40 or higher), diabetes, chronic kidney disease, liver disease and any condition, which compromises the immune system.
Compromising conditions may include cancer treatment, smoking cigarettes, bone marrow or organ transplants, immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, and prolonged use of steroids and other medications, which can weaken the immune system, according to the CDC website, cdc.gov.