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Eating Az alive: Ducey's coronavirus inaction is killing Arizonans for political purposes

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What the Devil won't tell you

Eating Az alive: Ducey's coronavirus inaction is killing Arizonans for political purposes

  • Gov. Doug Ducey refuses to reimpose restrictions to help save Arizonans lives as the state's coronavirus totals exceed those of blocs of large nations.
    Pool photo by Ross D. Franklin/Associated PressGov. Doug Ducey refuses to reimpose restrictions to help save Arizonans lives as the state's coronavirus totals exceed those of blocs of large nations.

Handling coronavirus with limited loss of life can be done. Other countries have done it. But the United States is playing election politics with a pandemic, and Gov. Doug Ducey is going along with it. MAGAism now comes with a booming local body count.

Coronavirus cases just here in Arizona are right now surging beyond combined daily caseloads of France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Spain. More inevitable deaths will follow on a level that would be unacceptable in any other area or under any other president.

Still, we seem to be treating this like a "tsk-tsk" moment worth some head-scratches and finger-wags. Journalists keep operating with a cynical detachment.

Let's be clear: Coronavirus is killing us. This is a horror show.

Let me just throw some numbers at you. When Ducey issued a week-long curfew on the state because some windows got broken and dumpsters set on fire in the wake of the George Floyd protests, I noted that 900 people had died of coronavirus in Arizona.

Since then, 250 more people have been killed by the virus in the state and Ducey promises no new restrictions. How this isn't an impeachable offense is beyond me.

Way back in 2015, I ranted and raved that Ducey would dare impose a refugee ban, when refugees had been responsible for zero terrorist attacks. Imagine if the refugees had killed 250 Arizonans in two short weeks. I'd still be hearing about it, and we wouldn’t even be letting Iowans into the state.

The Tucson area is over-performing in the worst way. Pima County’s number of coronavirus fatalities stands at 40 percent of Maricopa County's total deaths, despite having less than a quarter of the population.

The numbers have been increasing geometrically. It took very little geometry for the cases to go from 250 a day during the stay at home order to 1,500 or so today. It won’t take much more to get into the thousands or five figures.

The daily totals follow a routine. There’s a surge. There's a drop. We were at 780 one day and two days later we were at 187. We jumped to 1,127 and dropped to 530. We zoomed to 1,579 and back to 618. The latest two-day drop just bottomed out Sunday at 1,233 from 1,654. Brace yourself. A big ol' surge could be here by Wednesday.

France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Spain have a combined population of about 325 million – roughly the size of the United States – and their most recent combined new coronavirus cases add up to 1,209.

Arizona’s 1,233 confirmed cases Sunday were more than than those of five substantial countries combined.

Other countries are testing big-time, contact tracing, putting restrictions on gatherings, business operations and, in some cases, travel. Arizona is lifting restrictions quickly because apparently we can't live without our massages and snipping off our hippie hair.

Missing response

Ducey was on the right track early. Issuing stay-at-home orders and taking an aggressive approach to the disease. Then President Donald Trump got restless in his marble fortress. So he got out of D.C., and his first stop was in Phoenix. And the head of Ducey’s political party wanted to hear nothing of containment measures. He wanted to see GDP numbers.

So now, a month after Trump went wheels up out of the state, Ducey doing it The Donald’s Way. Arizonans are paying with their lives.

If COVID-19 is a local problem, than why is part of the GOP game plan to blame the country of China for the virus? Set aside the inherent blame-shifting and xenophobia. Blaming a whole country for failing to act swiftly enough presumes a national response is required.

Around the world, we talk about the German response and not the Bayern response, we discuss the Italian response and not the Tuscan response. We debate the Swedish response but not the Uppland response.

In the U.S., Trump has decided there are 50 responses—  one for each state – but he strongly advises that all states act in accordance with what he thinks will improve his chances for re-election. COVID-SCHMOVID, he wants better economic numbers.

CNBC interviewed German Health Minister Jens Spahn about what his country has done right and I won’t try to summarize other than to say, listening to Spahn was like diving into a pool that’s the perfect temperature. Imagine a literate expert, explaining sensible policies, informed by intellectual command of subject matter to address a life-and-death crisis. Yes, such a thing still exists in the world.

He did say the key was to jump on the virus early by taking it seriously soon. They experienced April spikes but work done in February and March paid off in May and June.

So if Arizona jumps now, we can see results that will help in the coming weeks and months.

Instead, Arizona leaders are whining “ehhhehhhh ... what do you expect us to doooo … what about the econnnommmmy … the media is being soooo meeeannn reporting on numberssss …”

How about doing what you were just doing. Imposing social distancing and telling people to stay at home until we get full-on testing and tracing. No? Too much to ask? A little German oompapa is too high a cost for liberty, I guess.

So we’re expected to have an Arizona response and there is no cohesive Arizona response because the state and local governments are clashing swords. We are spotty and disjointed. Tucson is still trying to throw together a testing regimen, under the auspices of Pima County stuck under the yoke of the state government.

That means there is no Tucson response nor can Pima County respond properly because the state won't let it.

The upshot is that the virus is eating Arizona alive. The state could run out of hospital beds by the end of July and the state’s ICU beds were at 82 percent capacity to start this week.

Yes, we can stop living

Then there was this horrifying passage in the Arizona Mirror as reported from the reliably deadpan Jeremy Duda.

At one point, (Dr. Cara) Christ acknowledged there was little else the state would do besides an educational campaign aimed at improving hygiene, physical distancing and encouraging the use of masks.

"We know that it's in the community, and that we can't stop the spread. We can't stop living, as well," she said.

Stop right there. OK, Cara. You say you are a doctor. What’s it called when people "stop living? "It’s happened 1,100 times to people across Arizona. It’s called “dying” and if the governor shrugs it off, pretend the George Floyd protesters were killing 100 white people a week.

Back to our story:

Ducey at another point tried to put a positive spin on the increasingly worsening public health figures by saying things could be worse.

"The fact that that worst-case scenario is not here today is positive news," he said.

The governor added that the focus of his administration was on the number of hospital beds available because "that's what's most important when there's a rise in cases."

"I want every Arizonan to be able to have the medical care and comfort and resources necessary, and today we are able to provide that," he said.

Yes, there is more that can be done but there’s nothing more that will be done because preventative actions clash with Trump’s silly re-election narrative. Anytime someone tells you "the good news is, this isn't the worst-case scenario" the news is going to be really, really bad.

Ducey jumped on it early and then let COVID off the mat. He is practically bragging that he’s not going to worry about it. Shop, everyone! Shop! And get your ass to work!

It would be nice if he just let Pima County conduct a reopening that puts safety up high on the list of priorities. The county worked with business leaders to craft a plan to reopen safely. It conflicted with Ducey’s executive orders. State Rep. Mark Finchem moved to get the attorney general to undo the county rules. The county has since backed off on some rules in a victory for Finchem. He’ll probably be happy to speak at future funerals and explain why nana had to die for his twisted view of “freedom.”

Tucson nurse Ben Gerkin recently penned a warning from the intensive care unit that noted: "Hospitals are at the point where we can't accept all patients and are making decisions based on if patients have the chance of survival. We are also not able to provide all treatment modalities such as dialysis on all patients based on the futility of their situations."

This is real, he said. And it's bad.

Flashlights and Beltane

The coronavirus has become an economic issue, rather than a public health crisis. Yet the health crisis is what’s causing the economic problems. And on that, hangs the ultimate irony. The health crisis is causing the economic crisis and it’s likely going to get worse. I know this because I once pointed a flashlight at a globe.

We know the virus doesn't do well in sunlight and we know the 1918 Spanish Flu hit in the spring, receded and then murdered in the next fall and winter. Seasonal viruses move north and south with ease, following the darkness.

I don’t expect Trump or Ducey to understand science on the level of a pulmonologist, virologist or immunologist. It sure would be nice if either had a grasp on the sciences equal to or better than the folks who built Stonehenge or celebrated Beltane. All I’m asking for is an Iron-Age astronomical literacy.

Trump's scientific wisdom is best expressed by his line "If we stopped testing right now, we would have very few cases, if any." That's kind of like if a dinosaur falls in the forest and no one is here to see it, does it really die? If I don't watch the Super Bowl, no one can tell me the Broncos didn't win it. If you don't pee on a stick, you can't get pregnant. This is jaw-dropping adamant ignorance from our president, who believes it's his God-given right to ignore facts as they unfold.

I expect our elected leaders to know the world is round. I expect them to grasp that it tilts on its axis. It would be nice to know that seasons are predictable (for the love of all that’s holy). Even if they dispute these two facts, they should know that seasons reliably change.

Coronavirus is fleeing longer, warmer days in parts of the northern hemisphere and heading southward. So Arizona, Florida and Texas are seeing numbers spike, with more indoor clustering to avoid summer heat and more stir-crazy residents mingling in public. This virus also apparently doesn't like sunlight and Arizona's days are shorter than those up north right now (even if they still seem long when you're waiting for sunset). Argentina and South Africa are seeing numbers spike as those countries get colder and darker. The virus may hang out on the bottom half of the world, and if it's contagious enough, come roaring back north.

Our spring infections may just have been the shark eating the skinny dipper. This thing isn't going away in the summer. It's coming for the boat in the fall and winter; it seems poised to explode again as the days get shorter.

Wait until the pandemic explodes right around – surprise? — October of an election year, as the economy nosedives again and Trump’s re-election chances die a cold, fast death.

No, not a normal risk

Saving Arizonans could help save Trump. There’s just no telling him that, so there's no convincing Ducey. Arizona’s COVID deaths are increasingly becoming political deaths because it doesn’t have to be this way.

I’ve been told the coronavirus is an acceptable background risk, like car crashes, crime and work place accidents. Add up all the 2018 murders, traffic fatalities and work place deaths and you get a number right around 1,500. COVID -19 has killed 1,100 of our fellow Arizonans in three months and God only knows where that number is heading with numbers spiking. Just projecting the three-month death toll over a year would yield a body count more than three times the size of all that background death.

A final thing bugs me. Given the wage stagnation that's accompanied huge gains in wealth during the last 40 years, people are being told to lose their lives for other people's profits. It's not like Arizona workers are risking their lives for the promise of any bit of a pot of gold up yonder.


In a perfect closing contrast, I point you toward the big red stripe across the southern Santa Catalina Mountains. Fire crews slurry-bombed the hell out of the mountains to stop wildfires from engulfing pricey neighborhoods. The government — coordinated among federal, state and local authorities — took quick, decisive, expensive action, and kept increasing the manpower and resources put into the fight against the Bighorn Fire. No one suggested the fire would "just stop."  But hey, in Arizona we care more about Foothills dream homes than the lives in the city below.

Blake Morlock is a journalist who has spent 20 years covering government in Arizona and also worked in Democratic political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.

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