Gov. Doug Ducey won’t impose any new restrictions on individuals or businesses despite what appears to be a record number of daily COVID-19 cases and a trend that is pushing even higher.
And he has are no plans to extend a moratorium on residential evictions once a federal ban on ousting tenants expires at the end of the month.
The Department of Health Services on Tuesday reported 12,314 new cases – a figure that hasn’t been seen since the beginning of the pandemic. There also were 23 more deaths, bringing the Arizona total to 6,973.
In Scottsdale, the latest data released by the county health department on Dec. 10 show that for the week beginning Nov. 30, cases per 100,000 people rose from 230 to 318 – an indication of substantial virus spread.
But positive new test results – another of three metrics that measure virus spread – dropped from substantial to moderate, falling from 10.1 percent to 8.8 percent. The third benchmark, hospital visits with COVID-like symptoms, was also in the moderate spread category.
Readings for Scottsdale Unified were in similar ranges.
The statewide numbers could include a spike in tests over the weekend. And with delays in those reports, the agency eventually sorts the tests based on the actual date the test is administered.
But what cannot be denied is that even the department’s own day-by-day delayed analysis, after sorting the numbers by actual test dates, shows there were a record 7,645 cases actually reported for Nov. 30.
That compares with the June 29 peak of 5,452, the day that the governor concluded he had made a mistake in allowing bars, gyms, water parks and movie theaters to reopen.
Since that time, though, the governor has relaxed his restrictions, allowing businesses to operate, though some at reduced capacity and under certain health protocols.
Those restrictions appear to not be working.
For the current week, 23 percent new tests were positive – up from 18 percent the previous week and 14 percent the week before.
At last count there were 3,157 patients in Arizona hospitals with positive or suspected cases of COVID. The last time the figure was that high was July 17.
There were 744 intensive care beds in use, also the highest since July. And while they represent just 43 percent of ICU capacity, the number of available beds dropped as low as 143 – within 8 percent of total capacity.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation is predicting an average of 55 deaths a day by the end of the year, eventually reaching 73 by the third week of January. That’s even with a rapid rollout of vaccine to the highest risk individuals.
In his latest forecast, Joe Gerald, a doctor at the Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona, predicted dire problems with access to critical care due to shortages of space, personnel and critical supplies.
“If not addressed within the next one to two weeks, this crisis will evolve into a humanitarian crisis leading to hundreds of preventable deaths,’’ he wrote. “At this point, only shelter-in-place restrictions are certain to quickly and sufficiently curtail viral transmission.’’
Even White House Coronavirus Task Force, one of the sources Ducey has said he has relied upon, urges Arizona to do more.
“Mitigation efforts must increase,’’ the report says. That includes “no indoor gatherings outside of immediate households.’’
And Ducey’s reaction to all this?
“It’s clear the numbers are moving in the wrong direction and are having a tremendous impact on our health care system,’’ said press aide C.J. Karamargin. But he had no announcements of any changes in current regulations.
Ducey does have other powers to deal with the pandemic above and beyond health precautions.
In March he imposed a moratorium on evictions of renters affected by COVID-19, whether due to themselves or a family member with the virus or simply by virtue of having lost a job because of the outbreak.
He said this is health related because keeping people in their homes helps prevent the spread of the virus.
Ducey extended his order several times before allowing it to expire at the end of October. But the governor noted at that time there would be no immediate effect because the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had imposed its own moratorium.
That federal bar itself self-destructs at the end of this month.
On Tuesday, citing the rise in COVID-19 cases and that Dec. 31 expiration, Democratic legislative leaders called on the governor to once again protect tenants from losing their homes and apartments.
But Karamargin said the governor has no plans to step up, saying it’s a federal issue.
Karamargin acknowledged that the governor did not wait for federal action earlier this year. But he said Ducey believes that this should be part of the discussion going on in Washington about the next step in federal coronavirus relief.
Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said that makes no sense, given that the governor has advised people that the safest place to be is at home.
“You can only stay home if you have a home,’’ she said.
The most recent survey by the U.S. Census Bureau shows about 14 percent of Arizonans said they were caught up on their rent. About 56,000 said they are very or somewhat likely to lose their homes or apartments in the next two months.
It’s not just Ducey who won’t recommend changes in what Arizona individuals and businesses should and should not be allowed to do.
“The number of cases added to the dashboard today is concerning but not unexpected,’’ said Health Director Cara Christ.
She said the agency anticipated an increase two weeks after the Thanksgiving holiday, the normal incubation period for the virus, as families gathered in increased numbers.
In anticipation of another spike after the December holidays Christ is urging people to take additional precautions and limit contacts beyond their immediate families.