An article in today’s Wall Street Journal highlighted the success that Arizona has had in controlling their COVID-19 outbreak. Arizona had one of the largest outbreaks in the United States in June, but has seen a drop of 72% in the number of new cases in August. Over that same period, the number of deaths in the state fell by roughly one-third.
Arizona’s success is impressive even when compared with what happened in other states with summer outbreaks. Florida, California, and Texas all had decreases in COVID cases of 54%, 21%, and 29%, respectively, in July. Why was Arizona better, and could their success be a model for other states.
Arizona did not declare a lockdown or other draconian measures to control their outbreak, favored in the public health community. In fact, despite the success of their approach, Kacey Ernst, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Arizona, said she would have handled the state’s approach to the pandemic differently and instituted a mask mandate. Several local officials have agreed with her, leading to a spirited debate around the approach the state has taken.
Arizona’s Gov. Doug Ducey made a number of smaller decisions in June that facilitated local municipalities in enacting measures, such as mask mandates. He also focused on bars, limited them to take-out and put occupation restrictions on restaurants. These actions alone seemed to turn the corner on the outbreak.
While Mr. Ducey has encouraged people to wear masks, he did not implement a statewide mandate as desired by Dr. Ernst. In July, the WSJ reported that mayors of some of the state’s biggest cities, including Phoenix, sent a letter to the governor asking for a more coordinated approach to handling the pandemic.
“We wanted to make the best decisions that would save the maximum amount of lives while prioritizing lives but also livelihoods,” Mr. Ducey said in an interview. “And there was too much game-playing around mayors that only wanted to lock everything down, and I wasn’t going to allow that to happen when it wasn’t in the best interest of saving lives.”
Other’s supported Gov. Ducey’s approach. “The Governor’s actions really have allowed us to be much more muscular,” said Francisco García, Pima County’s chief medical officer. Tucson, which is located in Pima county, is the home to the University of Arizona and has a one of the most dramatic drops in COVID-19 infections in the state.
Some say the rural makeup of parts of Arizona might have helped the fight. Leading public health figures explain that virus is easier to contain in sparsely populated areas and these places were able to better defeat the outbreak. Despite this, the responses in urban areas like Phoenix and Tucson are very impressive.
Arizona shows that you can control even severe outbreaks of Covid-19 disease without totally shutting down your state.