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As COVID cases increase again in Arizona, Gov. Ducey urges vaccinations

Republican gov. highlights coronavirus shots, but says state will not listen to 'lockdown lobby'

Highlighting the rise in COVID-19 cases because of the Delta variant, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey urged people to get vaccinated against the disease.

In a statement Friday, Ducey laid out recent data from the CDC that showed that 97 percent of people hospitalized for COVID-19 infections were not vaccinated, and that in Arizona, 95 percent of the reported cases in May were among people who were not fully vaccinated.

"So far since March, 98 percent of the COVID-19 deaths in Arizona were among those not fully vaccinated," Ducey said.

"We have so much more information about COVID-19 now than when we first learned about this disease. Our hearts are with everyone who has been impacted by this virus, directly or indirectly. Today, thanks to the miracle of modern science, we have something we didn’t have last year: a vaccine," he said.

Ducey's call to action comes as the state endures increasing numbers of infections of COVID-19 after a decline through the early summer. Last week, 7,836 people in Arizona were diagnosed with COVID-19, a 35 percent increase from the week before, wrote Dr. Joe K. Gerald, an associate professor with the University of Arizona's Zuckerman College of Public Public Health. In a report published by the Arizona Public Health Association, Gerald wrote that "Arizona has now surpassed the threshold marking high levels of transmission."

"Unfortunately, the potential size and/or duration of this outbreak remains uncertain," he wrote. "At 108 cases per 100K residents, Arizona ranks 12th among the 50 states. Louisiana, Florida, Arkansas, and Missouri are currently leading the pack with rates more than double ours: 302, 291, 272, and 252 cases per 100K residents per week, respectively."

"Fortunately, these rates remain well below the peaks seen during January 2021 outbreak," Gerald wrote.

The CDC has said that around 61 percent of those 12 years old and above have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but just 52.5 percent of people eligible in the state are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

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Even more worrisome, because the FDA has yet to authorize COVID-19 vaccines for children under 12, the overall vaccination rate for the state is even lower, hovering just below 45 percent, even as school districts prepare to open for classes by August 5.

"In December, the first Arizonans were able to get vaccinated — starting with health care heroes and vulnerable individuals. Arizona has become a national model for vaccination distribution," Ducey argued. "Now, seven months after vaccinations began, more than 3.3 million Arizonans are fully vaccinated and appointments are readily available for anyone who wants one."

Overall, Arizona falls far behind other states in its total vaccination rate, falling behind California, New Mexico, and Colorado, as well as far behind Oregon, Washington, New York, and Maine, among others. New York State has vaccinated 56.4 percent of its total population, the highest rate in the nation, according to CDC data.

Moreover, only a tiny fraction of a percent of people who received the vaccine were later infected. Of the 160 million Americans who are fully vaccinated, only about 3,733 people suffering from "breakthrough infections" were hospitalized for a severe infection, and of those only 791 died from the virus, according to the CDC, Ducey noted.

Ducey pleaded with Arizonans to get the vaccine, while also highlighting how state officials had "made it clear from the very beginning that we will never mandate the vaccine and we’ve taken action to prevent vaccine passports or mandates," he said.

"We’ve made sure that students aren’t discriminated against in our universities or public schools for their vaccine status," he said. "We’ve prevented mask mandates from being imposed on our businesses and on the public. We have also encouraged everyone to get this vaccine. It is the surest way of keeping you and your loved ones safe. I got my shot once I was eligible, and I’m glad I did."

In a sharp critique, the Arizona Public Health Association said with this "marked acceleration in transmission, mandating masks in indoor spaces and limiting large gatherings is warranted to reduce transmission in public settings."

"Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that state policymakers will take action to protect public safety, either by allowing vaccination mandates (e.g., school attendance), indoor mask mandates (e.g., schools), or targeted business restrictions. Individual action alone is unlikely to stem the tide unless those most resistant to vaccination and mask-wearing voluntarily change their behaviors," AZPHA said.

"With inadequate vaccination uptake, eliminating COVID-19 is no longer a plausible public health policy goal," the group said. "COVID-19 is almost certain to become an endemic disease with varying temporal and geographic implications. Fortunately, vaccination will remain a viable disease control strategy offering a high degree of protection to those willing to accept them."

Will Humble, executive director for the Arizona Public Health Association and the former head of the state Health Department, wrote that "exponential growth" of the coronavirus was back in Arizona, and he criticized Arizona Republicans who passed a law that prohibits mask mandate,  and required vaccinations for students and staff.

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"At this point, Gov. Ducey, Director Christ and a majority of the state Legislature have tied the hands of virtually the entire state to the point where nobody is allowed to do virtually anything to slow the spread of COVID-19," Humble wrote.

"K-12 schools are prohibited from requiring masks on campus," he wrote. "Universities and community colleges cannot require masks nor can they have a student code of conduct that has different expectations for vaccinated and un-vaccinated students. Cities and counties cannot have mask requirements in their jurisdictions. Vaccination requirements and requirements for vaccination records are prohibited. It's like they have us in reverse lockdown."

The University of Arizona noted that it had updated its COVID-19 protocols because of the new law, and that it would "strongly encourage, but not require, that all members of our campus community be vaccinated." The UA also said that it would push for face-coverings, and would only require them in labs, in areas where people are participating in clinical trials, and in areas that required personal protective equipment for "high hazards," including chemicals. However, the UA said that masks would be required on Cat Tran shuttles.

Ducey wrote that the state "will not be listening to the lockdown lobby."

"Businesses will stay open. Students will be able to attend school. There will be no mask mandates. We have a proven solution with the vaccine," he said. "I strongly encourage every Arizonan who is eligible for the vaccine to get it so they can protect themselves and our whole state."

Earlier this week, Banner Health, the state's largest private employer said that all of 52,000 employees must be vaccinated by November.

A recent poll showed that Arizonans are increasingly unconcerned about COVID-19, and that some Arizonans remain resistant to getting the vaccine, even as the overall number of people who said they took the vaccine rose by 8 percent.

"This tells us that those who are unwilling to take a vaccine are standing their ground while the willing are taking steps toward vaccination," said Mike Noble, chief of research with OH Predictive Insights. 

"As Arizona continues to work towards herd immunity, the unwavering hesitancy of those unwilling to take a COVID-19 vaccine is a potential roadblock," Noble said."Vaccine distribution is publicly available, free, and efficient as ever, but at the end of the day, Arizonans must make the choice whether to be vaccinated."

Ducey said that medical professionals in Arizona and across the country "all agree that getting vaccinated is safe, it will protect you and it is the right choice," he said. "There is plenty of supply of the vaccine, it’s easy to get, and it’s free. Check the Arizona Department of Health Services website for helpful information, talk to your doctor or another trusted medical professional, and consider asking your loved ones about their vaccination experience."

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Ariz. Gov. Doug Ducey during a press conference at the University of Arizona in March.


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