In Arizona, the coronavirus raged. With masks and other measures, it subsided. What can it teach America?

As temperatures in Arizona shot toward their summer peaks, so did the state’s coronavirus crisis. Lines for drive-up testing snaked for blocks in June. Hospitals were running out of beds, bodies were being stored in coolers, and the state’s per capita caseload topped global charts.



a man standing next to a car: Arizona Western College EMT Academy students Natus Humphrey, left, and Shayla Watson hand out coronavirus test kits Oct. 17 in Yuma, Ariz.


© Randy Hoeft/Yuma Sun/AP
Arizona Western College EMT Academy students Natus Humphrey, left, and Shayla Watson hand out coronavirus test kits Oct. 17 in Yuma, Ariz.

But by mid-August, the southwest hot spot made a remarkable reversal. Cases plummeted 75 percent.

Arizona has maintained relatively low case numbers since, but they are now creeping to levels seen just a few weeks before its summer surge. And as a conflagration engulfs the Midwest and Mountain West, public health experts and elected officials in Arizona are pleading with residents to maintain mitigation measures they say played a critical role in beating back the virus and hold lessons for other states — including mask mandates that covered 85 percent of the population.

“The mask ordinances should stay in place until we get pretty wide distribution of the vaccine,” said Will Humble, a former state health department director who now leads the Arizona Public Health Association. “The return on investment is off the charts. The only thing that it costs is political capital.”

That emphasis on face-coverings echoes intensifying calls by public health experts nationwide amid growing evidence of masks’ effectiveness in reducing transmission — and signs that a pandemic-weary population and battered economy may not tolerate widespread shutdowns.

Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, has been touring states and chiding those where mask use is low. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb have advocated for a national mask mandate. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has also urged mandates, recently calling mask-wearing and social distancing simple measures that may be “the next best thing” to lockdowns that are unlikely to be repeated.

Some local governments in hard-hit red states where masks have been especially contentious are heeding the call. In recent days, mandates were passed in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and the North Dakota cities of Bismarck and Grand Forks.

In Arizona, some jurisdictions are lifting mask mandates, fraying nerves among some observers who say such loosening is premature.

“I’m becoming more of a firm believer that face masks are a truly effective intervention in this particular outbreak and should be considered our first line of defense,” said Joe K. Gerald, a University of Arizona public health researcher who tracks coronavirus trends in the state. Places without them, he said, are “shooting themselves in the foot, because wearing face masks can protect individuals but also reduce the spread to others and allow more economic activity and social activity.”

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chart, histogram: Newly diagnosed coronavirus cases in Arizona rose sharply in June, declined by August, and are now creeping up again. (Joe K. Gerald/University of Arizona)


Newly diagnosed coronavirus cases in Arizona rose sharply in June, declined

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Exceptional Healthcare to Open New Community Hospitals Across Arizona

Exceptional Community Hospital Celebrates Groundbreaking for Maricopa Facility;
Additional Community Hospitals Already Planned for Yuma, Prescott, Other Communities

A Texas-based hospital group is making a strong entry into the Arizona marketplace, with a critically needed community hospital coming to Maricopa and other hospitals opening across Arizona in the near future.

Exceptional Healthcare is entering Arizona with its first facility in the City of Maricopa, in the Phoenix metro region. The 20,000-square-foot Phase 1 of the facility will be located in the heart of Maricopa on State Route 347, and will be the first facility of its kind in the community.

The state-of-the-art facility includes a specialty internal medicine hospital, a 24-hour emergency department, a digital imaging suite – including CT Scan, X-Ray, mobile MRI and ultrasound – an in-house laboratory, and outpatient and inpatient hospital beds for acute admissions and overnight observation of patients.

Additionally, in partnership with higher-level hospitals in the Phoenix area, Exceptional Healthcare will feature a landing area for air ambulances to ensure the fastest transfer of patients needing a higher level of care.

Exceptional Healthcare is already planning for additional facilities in Prescott and Yuma as well as locations in as many as six other communities throughout the state.

“We are very excited to be entering the Arizona marketplace and particularly the City of Maricopa with our first Exceptional Healthcare hospital in the state,” said Saeed Mahboubi, Chief Financial Officer for Exceptional Healthcare. “Arizona is facing a shortage of healthcare facilities and professionals, particularly in rural areas and smaller communities in the state. These new hospitals will fill a critical need and help strengthen the state’s overall healthcare infrastructure.”

Two socially distanced, invitation-only groundbreaking events will take place on Friday, November 13 at the Maricopa site. Members of the media are invited to attend either the 10:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. events. Media members who would like to attend should contact Tom Evans at the information above.

Neighborhood community hospitals are important because they offer residents of communities without large healthcare resources an alternative to driving long distances — often at times of medical emergency when seconds count. It also provides patients with the ability to stay closer to home for less significant internal medicine-related admissions, allowing patients to be closer to their families and loved ones.

At the Exceptional Healthcare facilities, each inpatient room will have accommodations for a family member to stay the night, as well as high-level concierge-style service. Plans include chef-prepared individualized meal service as well as complimentary toiletries, bath robe, and slippers for patients to increase their level of comfort.

As Maricopa continues to grow, the need for immediate lifesaving care is critical, and the ability for residents to be admitted to a hospital for basic inpatient care without having to leave Maricopa is a plus. The $18 million facility in Maricopa is expected to employ between 60-100 employees, and is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2021.

Christian Price, Mayor of the City of Maricopa, welcomed

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Arizona governor defends school rule as virus ‘storm’ looms

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Thursday warned that a “storm is ahead” as coronavirus cases climb in the state, but defended new guidelines for in-person school instruction that will let students remain in class far beyond what earlier guidance would have recommended.

The Republican governor insisted that his administration consulted with public education and health officials before making the decision to ease guidance for when schools should consider ending in-person instruction and returning to online classes.

But Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, a Democrat, said in a tweet that her department did not request or recommend any changes to the state health department’s guidance.


And two major school administrator groups objected to the decision, saying it goes against months of planning done following the previous guidance. The Arizona School Administrators and the Arizona School Boards Association released a statement s aying the change was made without communicating its reason or an understanding of its impact on schools.

Ritchie Taylor, Hoffman’s spokesman, said the Health Services Department presented the change as a done deal at a regular weekly meeting earlier this month of a group of county health officials and Education Department officials. The group has been meeting since the summer to collaborate on school virus issues.

“It was not put up for a collaborative debate or input,” Taylor said. “It was put up as a policy decision.”

The Health Services Department in August issued guidance outlining how and when schools can consider reopening and when they should close again if virus cases surge. Those rules suggested a return to remote learning if at least one of a county’s three benchmarks based on COVID-19 cases, testing positivity and prevalence of COVID-19-like illness moved from moderate to substantial spread.

The new recommendations were quietly posted on the health services department website last Thursday, and went unnoticed until KNXV-TV reported on them earlier this week. They call for districts to move to remote learning when all three benchmarks move to substantial spread for two weeks.

Ducey on Wednesday dodged questions about why there was no announcement of the change and did not specifically say who requested them. The guidance covers 1.1 million public school students in district and charter schools statewide. It doesn’t cover private or parochial schools.

“These guidelines were adjusted at the request of public education leaders in coordination with public health officials,” Ducey said. “And that’s how we’ll continue to do that and we will be completely transparent.”

The governor spoke at a media briefing where he discussed current virus conditions, which he said were rising. Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said she expects a further spike in cases after Thanksgiving, when college students return home and families gather for the holidays.

“I hope that I am wrong, but what I would anticipate is to see a spike about 10 to 14 days after Thanksgiving and then potentially continue to increase over the next four to six weeks,” Christ said.

That would strain hospitals, who

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Texas woman died of COVID-19 while on board a plane from Arizona to Texas, officials say

A Texas woman died of COVID-19 while on board a plane from Arizona to Texas, officials said Sunday.

The woman, in her 30s, had difficulty breathing before the plane took off on July 25, according to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.

“They tried to give her oxygen,” Jenkins said during a briefing. “It was not successful. She died on the jetway.”

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County officials knew a Garland resident had died in July, Jenkins told WFAA, but only recently received an autopsy report from an Arizona medical examiner that listed the virus as the cause of death.


“We don’t know a whole lot,” Jenkins said. “We may not know if she was aware she was sick.”

The woman, who has not been identified, had underlying high risk health conditions, according to a news release.

Jenkins said he did not have information on which airline the woman was traveling with, WFAA reported.

On Monday, Dallas officials announced 382 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 90,318 confirmed cases and 1,085 deaths.

Across the state, 2,273 cases and eight new deaths were reported, for a total of 828,527 cases and 17,022 deaths. As of Monday, 4,319 Texans were hospitalized for the coronavirus.

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Arizona Among States With Lowest Childhood Obesity Rates

ARIZONA — Arizona is among U.S. states with the lowest rates of childhood obesity, says a new study released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

According to this year’s State of Childhood Obesity report, about 1 in 7 children nationwide are considered obese — or about 15.5 percent.

At 38th in the nation, our state falls lower than the U.S. average. This year’s report says roughly 12.1 percent of Arizona children ages 10 to 17 are considered obese.

“Childhood obesity remains an epidemic in this country,” Jamie Bussel, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said in a release. “We must confront these current crises in ways that also support long-term health and equity for all children and families in the United States.”

The focus of this year’s report, according to a release by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is prioritizing childhood health amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In the study, researchers say the pandemic and ongoing economic recession have worsened many of the broader factors that contribute to obesity, including poverty and health disparities.

Emerging research links obesity with increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, including among children. Evidence from other vaccines also has led some experts to predict that a COVID-19 vaccine may be less effective in those with underlying medical conditions such as obesity.

The pandemic also exacerbates conditions that put children at risk for obesity.

School closures have left millions of children without a regular source of healthy meals or physical activity. In addition, millions of caregivers have lost income or jobs, making it more difficult for families to access or afford healthy foods.

To determine the most recent childhood obesity rates, the foundation used data from the 2018-19 National Survey of Children’s Health, along with information collected through a separate analysis conducted by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau.

The report also highlights the obesity rates in younger children, high school students and adults. Here’s a look at how Arizona rates:

  • Children ages 2 to 4 (participating in WIC — the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program): 12.1 percent, or 41 out of 50 states and Washington, D.C.

  • High school students: 13.3 percent, or 35 out of 50 states and Washington, D.C.

  • Adults: 31.4 percent, or 31 out of 50 states and Washington, D.C.

  • Adults with diabetes: 10.9 percent, or 21 out of 50 states and Washington, D.C.

  • Adults with hypertension: 32.5 percent, or 21 out of 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Here are a couple findings of note from this year’s report:

  • Childhood obesity is more prevalent in children of color: About 11.7 percent of white children are considered obese. Rates are significantly higher for Hispanic (20.7 percent), Black (22.9 percent), American Indian/Alaska Native (28.5 percent), and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander (39.8 percent) children.

  • Income also affects the prevalence of obesity: About 21.5 percent of youths in households making less than the federal poverty level were considered obese, more than double the 8.8 percent

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