SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) — A new study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention illustrated how quickly a state experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases can turn things around and slow the spread.
Coronavirus cases in America’s sunbelt states were spiraling out of control from a “second surge,” partially fueled by reopening too quickly. Hospitals were overwhelmed in Arizona with patients suffering from the virus.
“Arizona had such a big burden of COVID. Their hospital systems were being stretched at the seams. In California, even though we had a second surge, our hospitals were never overwhelmed. Their ICU beds were being filled and they didn’t have enough capacity,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease physician at University of California San Francisco Medical Center.
Arizona’s governor and local leaders had initially resisted mandating rules such as mask-wearing and social distancing. Gov. Doug Ducey, a conservative Republican, pushed for priorities including personal responsibility, individual choice, and freedom.
“For months, Mr. Ducey and other Arizona leaders resisted enforcing strict mandates to combat the coronavirus, making it one of the nation’s most cavalier states when it comes to Covid-19,” the New York Times wrote.
Average daily cases increased 151 percent from June 1 to June 15, spurring state leaders to increase their focus on preventive measures by businesses, communities, and individuals. Over the summer the state shifted decision-making to be closer with the CDC’s guidelines. Some business and services were ordered to close and masks were required.
Arizona’s summer pivot “was kind of like a last, Hail Mary, effort. And it seemed to have worked, which was impressive,” Chin-Hong said.
CDC medical researchers closely watched and recorded coronavirus trends in Arizona as summer mitigation measures stemmed the tide.
The CDC wrote, “The number of COVID-19 cases in Arizona stabilized and then decreased after sustained implementation and enforcement of statewide and locally enhanced mitigation measures, beginning approximately 2 weeks after implementation and enforcement of mask mandates and enhanced sanitations practices began on June 17; further decreases were observed during July 13–August 7, after statewide limitations and closures of certain services and businesses.”
Arizona’s “Hail Mary” timeline:
- June 17 – Updated guidance from state officials provided local governments the authority to implement mask policies and enforcement measures tailored to local public health needs. (Before June 17, mask wearing had not been widely mandated or enforced.)
- June 29: Limited organized public events to fewer than 50 persons (with some exceptions); closed bars, gyms, movie theaters, and water parks and recreational tubing facilities.
- July 9: Limited restaurants’ indoor dining to (fewer than) 50 percent capacity, with at least 6 feet of separation between patrons.
According to the CDC, the 7-day average of daily cases peaked between June 29–July 2, stabilized between July 3–12, and subsequently decreased 75 percent from July 13 to August 7. The mitigation measures put in place in June were extended through August to further limit transmission.
Chin-Hong said the study is one of many providing evidence that masks help slow down community transmission of the virus.
“I get really sad when I see politics infiltrating mask-wearing. Masks are not new. In the medical profession, we have been using masks for forever to protect ourselves. Even before COVID. Mask-wearing is so embedded in medical care. To protect people’s health,” Chin-Hong said.
He added, “To politicize it suggests that there is some choice in the matter. There is no choice, you either protect someone’s health or you don’t.”