COVID-19 in Arizona: Medical professionals urge mask mandate

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PHOENIX – With COVID-19 cases rising by more than 1,000 a day since June 10, more than 800 Arizona medical professionals have signed letters urging the state to require the use of face masks in public.

Lee Ann Kelley, president of the Maricopa County Medical Society, told Cronkite News on Wednesday that wearing masks in public will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 while allowing the Arizona economy to continue reopening. The surge in cases has coincided with Gov. Doug Ducey’s lift of the his stay-home order on May 15, followed by a crush of Arizonans celebrating Memorial Day.

The county medical society started the call for a face mask policy Friday in a letter to Ducey, according to The Arizona Republic. In two other letters to the governor, more than 800 medical professionals in the state have urged for the use of face coverings.

Although Ducey tweeted Wednesday that people should wear masks in public, Kelley said that still isn’t enough. He has made such recommendations before, she said, but many people dismiss the advice because they’re fixed in their beliefs and because Ducey and other leaders do not wear masks in public.

“Part of the reason it’s not working is because he (Ducey) does not model that behavior and leaders should lead – they should model that they want citizens to adopt,” Kelley said. “If they would wear masks, then I think that other people would see it as, ‘OK, we really need to do this.'”

As of Wednesday, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 40,924 cases of COVID-19 and 1,239 deaths in the state. It said 501,963 tests for COVID-19 have been completed in public and private labs in Arizona, and 7.3% of the tests have come back positive for the virus.

At a news conference last week, Ducey attributed the recent surge in cases to increased testing statewide. Dr. Joshua LaBaer, executive director of the ASU Biodesign Institute, said Wednesday on Facebook Live that the rise in cases also is due to community spread of the disease.

“Obviously, it is certainly true that the more testing you do, the more cases you’re going to see, but obviously the number of cases we’re seeing is going up faster than just that,” LaBaer said in the news conference. “The number of cases we’re seeing is a reflection of increased transmission of the virus and more spread of the disease through the community.”

Kelley said that although there has been confusion about how effective face masks can be, studies demonstrate that wearing one does reduce the spread of infection.

ICU nurses from around the country are helping in Arizona

An ad stating “Urgently hiring 5 to 10 ICU nurses in the Phoenix area” has prompted intensive care unit nurses to travel to Arizona from across the country to help with the spread of COVID-19, FOX10 reported. The ad appeared on the job search site ProLink Staffing, and several similar ads have appeared in the past few weeks, the station said.

Arizona Democrats hopeful that Ducey will issue face mask policy

KTAR reported Wednesday that Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego is looking to the Governor’s Office to issue a face mask policy as COVID-19 cases rise. Gallego told the station Tuesday that she hopes Ducey delivers news soon, and that she won’t “have to find out big news from Twitter.” She joins Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and Reps. Greg Stanton and Ruben Gallego, all Democrats, in urging Ducey to make the requirement.

Unemployment on the rise in Arizona

The Department of Economic Security reported last week that the number of Arizonans seeking unemployment benefits is up 17% from the week before, according to the Arizona Daily Star. More than 1.6 million Arizonans are collecting some form of unemployment benefits, DES said, but 28,522 individuals filed first-time claims as of June 13.

Casinos security worker dies after testing positive for COVID-19

Robert Washington, who worked as a security guard at Gila River Lone Butte Casino near Chandler, died from COVID-19 last week, AZfamily reported. Despite his concerns of COVID-19, Washington, a diabetic and cancer survivor, went back to work May 15, when businesses began to reopen, because he couldn’t afford insulin treatments. Washington’s daughter Lina also called on Ducey and other leaders to encourage the public to wear masks.

Trump’s planned Arizona rally has health experts worried

Cronkite News reported Tuesday that President Donald Trump is heading to a rally by Students for Trump next week at Dream City Church in north Phoenix. The size of the potential crowd, set against the backdrop of rising COVID-19 cases, has health officials voicing their concerns over the rally.

How to help

The Navajo Nation has established an official GoFundMe account to help respond to the pandemic. Contributions to the Navajo Nation COVID-19 Relief Fund can be made here.

News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Lisa Diethelm grew up in California and expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a certificate in philosophy, rhetoric and literature. Diethelm is a digital reporter for Cronkite News. She also serves as the editor in chief and politics editor for the Downtown Devil.