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Former health director: Ducey should fund COVID-19 compliance inspections

PHOENIX – The former director of the Arizona Department of Health Services called on Gov. Doug Ducey on Wednesday to utilize federal funds to support counties investigating businesses with coronavirus complaints.

Will Humble, who is now the executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, said Ducey should utilize unallocated funds from the coronavirus relief bill to assist the state’s county health departments with sending inspectors out to businesses that aren’t following coronavirus mitigation measures.

“If we don’t beef up the compliance and enforcement inspections at bars, restaurants and nightclubs then we’re going to end up in exponential growth probably,” Humble told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Gaydos & Chad.

“I don’t think it will be like June and July, but enough so that there’s jeopardy in the hospital system and then you’re faced with the decision, ‘Do we close the bars and night clubs again?’”

Humble said the state doesn’t have to get to that point where hospitals are pushed to the limits and businesses like bars would be forced to temporarily shutter their doors once again.

In June, Ducey implemented an executive order that forced bars, nightclubs, gyms, theaters, waterparks and tubing operators to temporarily shutter operations in an attempt to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

When the state unveiled reopening guidelines in late-August for businesses, AZDHS rolled out an online forum where people would be able to report establishments that were skirting the requirements.

The state said it would partner with the county health departments to make sure those complaints were followed up on, but Humble said the contracts were never signed because the contracts didn’t pay the counties enough for what the state was asking them to follow through on.

He urged the governor to allocate the funds because the state can’t oversee all the complaints themselves.

“Those investigations are happening, but how can you do that from a building on 18th Avenue and Monroe?” Humble said. “Those have to be happening at the county level. That’s who lives in those communities.”

Humble pointed out that the Pima County Health Department has done a good job of following up on complaint investigations and he said that is reflective in their data.

Pima’s coronavirus percent positivity rate has decreased from 6% at the end of August to 4% last week. On Wednesday, the county reported 109 new coronavirus cases and one death.

Humble also called on the governor to institute a statewide mask mandate, something Ducey has shied away from. In June, he gave local governments like counties and cities the power to decide if they wanted to implement face covering requirements for their jurisdictions.

“We’re not going to need to do these things forever, just until the vaccines are in wide distribution, but for the life of me I don’t understand why this evidence-based practice that is clearly helpful, has a very high return on investment isn’t being implemented,” Humble said.

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