Health expert blames Arizona’s COVID crisis on lack of enforcement

Jan 5, 2021, 2:00 PM | Updated: 2:53 pm
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)...
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Arizona wouldn’t currently be the country’s worst COVID-19 hot spot if state officials had been doing a better job of enforcing mitigation rules, according to public health expert Dr. Will Humble.

“Businesses recognized — especially bars, restaurants and nightclubs — that they could get away with cheating on those measures and not be punished,” Humble, president of the Arizona Public Health Association and former director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show on Tuesday.

Humble said it’s gotten so bad that the only meaningful step to save lives the state could take at this point would be to close down bars and limit restaurants to take-out service.

He said that even though thousands of businesses are subject to mitigation rules enacted by the state over the summer, the health department has done just 15 enforcement actions.

“You’re telling me that that’s meaningful enforcement of the mitigation measures? … I can’t say it plainly enough: If we had been doing better enforcement in those indoor environments, then I wouldn’t be sitting here talking on the radio about shutting those businesses,” he said.

Humble acknowledged that business closures could do economic harm and create additional public health problems, but he noted that they helped turn back the first wave of the pandemic in July.

He said there’s nothing the government can mandate to combat coronavirus spread that occurs during gatherings at private homes, but that isn’t a reason to do nothing more in terms of mitigation.

“The way I look at it is, what policy levers do you actually have to make a real difference?” he said.

Humble suggested that Gov. Doug Ducey could use stockpiled federal relief funds to help offset the economic impact of closures.

“But it’s going to take the guts to make that call, recognizing that the safety net dollars are there,” he said. “He’s saving that CARES Act money. It’s sitting in the bank.”

Humble questioned whether Ducey and Health Director Dr. Cara Christ were concerned with slowing the spread of COVID-19 at all at this stage.

“I think their attitude has been, ‘Look, we’re not going to try to mitigate this thing, we’re going to try to vaccinate our way out of it,’” he said.

As of Tuesday, the health department said about 100,000 of Arizona’s 7 million-plus residents have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Low supplies are being rationed to prioritized groups.

Meanwhile, Arizona has had the country’s highest of per-capita rate of coronavirus transmission and seventh-highest COVID-19 death rate over the last seven days, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

The state’s hospitals are seeing record numbers of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients, and it’s about to get worse due to the lack of action in November and December, Humble said.

“It’s not the cases per se that trouble me,” he said. “It’s the fact that 7% of them will end up needing to be hospitalized in about seven, eight, nine days,” he said.

“That’s how long it takes after you’ve been diagnosed with the illness before you get sick enough to be hospitalized, and there’s … no room at the inn. That to me is the troubling thing.”

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Health expert blames Arizona’s COVID crisis on lack of enforcement