Cases are on an exponential increase in Arizona, according to experts. On Wednesday, August 4, there were 2,286 new cases of COVID-19 reported in the state and seven new deaths. The total number of cases is now 935,647 and 18,289 people have died from the virus in Arizona. Total vaccinations are very slowly increasing, with 52.7% of eligible Arizona adults vaccinated.
These numbers come from the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) COVID-19 data dashboard. Here’s what Dr. Joe Gerald, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor at Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona (UA) has to say in his COVID-19 Disease Outbreak Look this week:
COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations continue to increase markedly. Unlike the summer of 2020 when we headed into school re-opening with generally declining rates, the match has been lit and the kindling is aflame this time. For good measure, we’re going to throw on some wet wood (children) in the coming weeks to ensure a robust bonfire for the Labor Day Marshmallow Roast. In the absence of greater vaccination or mask mandates, it is difficult to be optimistic about what might happen when schools are running at full capacity.
Over the past several months, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has made moves to severely limit the abilities of the state government and regulatory entities to provide any mitigation strategies, especially in in-school settings. This includes measures passed by the state legislature in the 2022 budget bill prohibiting schools from requiring masks inside classrooms.
Arizona Public Health Association (AzPHA) executive director Will Humble wrote in his blog this week that lawsuits are an inevitability and schools are already acting in defiance of the governor and legislature’s orders. This includes the Phoenix Union High School District, which announced that it will require universal masking of all students and visitors regardless of their vaccination status.
Expect more districts to defy the directive and require masks in classrooms despite ARS 15-342.05. This will probably trigger an action by A.G. Brnovich and/or Ducey to try to compel the district to stand down, sending the case to Superior Court — but this time with the school district as the defendant rather than the plaintiff.
A high school biology teacher at Metro Tech High School named Douglas Hester filed a lawsuit following the Phoenix Union’s announcement. According to AZCentral, the lawsuit alleges that the Phoenix Union governing board lacks the legal authority to require masks, despite the guidance being in line with federal and local public health guidance. From Alexander Kolodin. Hester’s attorney:
No school district is above the law. We are pleased to take action on behalf of this brave teacher to ensure government bodies follow the law.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Phoenix Union’s Superintendent Dr. Chad Geston is unsure of what penalties the school district might face. The response from the Governor’s Office didn’t lend a clue:
Governor Ducey believes the decision by Phoenix Union requiring masks has no teeth. It’s unenforcable.
Arizona State University’s (ASU) hands are also bound by Governor Doug Ducey’s actions and is unable to create a mandatory mask policy for the school due to an executive order issued last month. Instead, the university has issued a statement in which it is “strongly recommending” that everyone on campus wear a mask for the time being, according to AZCentral. From ASU spokesperson Jerry Gonzales:
We are in line with Gov. Ducey’s executive order, and can require masking as long as we do not distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated students.
As schools come back into session, the biggest share of cases of COVID-19 are markedly among individuals ages 20-44, but there has also been a 30% rise in cases in the 0-20 year age group. From ABC15‘s “data guru” Garret Archer:
The biggest concern with the 0-20 age group is less about the severity and more about them being a vector point for getting other people sick. So if they have people at home who are unable to get vaccinated or chose not to get vaccinated, those people of a certain age group where COVID-19 may be more severe to them, they are more at risk when these numbers go up.
Around the State
The Navajo Reservation has reported a substantial rise in cases, with 25 new cases and three additional deaths. Officials told ABC News that these was due to some tribal members forgoing precautions needed to stave off spread of the virus. From President Jonathan Nez:
A lot of the new cases we are seeing on the Navajo Nation are due to family and social gatherings where people let their guard down and don’t wear masks.
Dr. Joshua LaBaer with ASU’s Biodesign Institute told KJZZ that the Delta variant includes heightened risks for everyone, including the vaccinated:
It’s a variant that because of its ability to grow in very high copy numbers in a person can infect people who’ve been vaccinated. So, people who’ve been vaccinated at the very minimum can become carriers of this virus and sometimes get ill from this virus.
Dr. LaBaer doesn’t believe that hospitals will become overrun as they were earlier this year. But Arizona hospitals are making moves to protect patients and providers. In a press conference on August 3, Banner Health Chief Clinical Officer Marjorie Bessel enumerated some of the moves the health network is making:
Due to increased COVID positivity and lower than optimal vaccination rates in Arizona, we have adjusted our visitor restrictions this week. As of yesterday, August 2, visitation at our facilities in Maricopa, Gila and Pinal counties was reduced to one visitor per patient per day.
Arizona health care systems are all falling in line to require the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition for employment at hospitals, including Banner Health. Last week, Mayo Clinic and HonorHealth followed suit to require the vaccines for their employees. Nationwide, 30 health care systems have mandated the vaccine including University of Chicago Medicine and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The world’s largest entertainment company and the nation’s largest private employer — Disney and Walmart, respectively — announced they would require vaccinations for employees, the Washington Post reports. Disney announced that it reached out to unions representing employees regarding a vaccine mandate be included under collective bargaining agreements.
Walmart’s store and warehouse staffers would not be required to get the vaccine under the announcement, only corporate staff members and regional managers, but it is offering a $150 bonus incentive for employees who are not subject to the requirement.
On Monday, the U.S. finally reached President Joe Biden’s goal of 70% of American adults with at least one shot a month late of the goal, according to Modern Healthcare. MH also notes that Louisiana has ordered everyone regardless of vaccination status to wear masks in indoor public settings including schools and colleges. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that airport and transit workers will be required to get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. The Denver mayor’s office said the city will require all municipal employees to get vaccinated. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis isn’t doing anything despite record hospitalization numbers in the Sunshine State.
Major employers who have demanded that unvaccinated employees get regular testing fail to answer an important question: Who will pay for all the COVID-19 testing of noncompliant employees? The New York Times spoke to research professor Sabrina Corlette at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms:
It’s really up to the employer. They can require employees to pick up the tab.
The World Health Organization called for a moratorium on booster shots of COVID-19 this week, according to STAT. Instead, wealthier nations should be more concerned with exporting vaccines to nations with higher need and the goal of the moratorium would be to get enough vaccine supply into COVAX, the international distribution system. From WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus:
I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant. But we cannot and we should not accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccine using even more of it while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected