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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How PepsiCo’s Propel used Instagram as the pandemic raged

  • PepsiCo’s Propel fitness water brand has relied on social media, including fitness influencers on Instagram, to connect with consumers during the pandemic in place of its yearly in-person fitness events.
  • Propel is also introducing new products, such as an immunity-focused flavor and water bottles designed to work with its powdered drinks, to meet consumers’ demand during the pandemic.
  • Sales of at-home fitness products, from Peloton bikes to athleisure, have exploded during the pandemic, with many consumers exercising alone instead of going to the gym or taking classes.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

For years, fitness geeks in cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Miami signed up for workout sessions at Co:Labs, an event hosted by PepsiCo’s Propel water brand. The goal was to drive sales of the beverage, which PepsiCo has marketed for two decades as Gatorade’s younger sibling.

But in 2020, the event required a different approach, said Anuj Bhasin, vice president of Gatorade, protein and fitness brands at PepsiCo. “It’s been a really big success, but this year, we had to make a big pivot,” he said. 

That meant taking the fitness festival to Instagram, where consumers could access workouts that ranged from quick stretches to longer Barre and dance classes. Besides expanding Propel’s Instagram following, the digital event helped the brand grow sales at a double-digit rate as the pandemic kept many consumers at home, Bhasin said. 

“We were specifically focused on was ensuring that we were connected with our consumers and that they were seeing propel as a leading brand in the fitness space,” he added.

Products designed for people working up a sweat in a socially distant way have been hot sellers since COVID-19 began spreading in the US earlier this year. Consumers snapped up Peloton bikes and Lululemon athletic wear as many stayed away from gyms but kept working out at or near home.

That boom has extended to beverages, especially sports drinks like Gatorade and Propel. PepsiCo CEO Ramon Laguarta pointed to the category earlier this month while discussing third-quarter earnings with analysts, saying that consumers “are embracing daily routines of exercising,” he said.

Marketing is just one area where Propel is making changes as consumers’ habits change during the pandemic. The brand is also introducing new flavors of its water that contain Vitamin C and zinc, which the company says help support the immune system. The product, called “Propel Immune Support,” was in the works before COVID-19 swept the US, Bhasin said, but “we think it’s hyper-relevant now,” he added.

Even before the pandemic, Bhasin said, consumers were looking for beverages that offered nutritional and other health benefits. Through focus groups and other consumer research, Propel found that consumers were highly interested in products that included “another benefit around antioxidants and immune support.”

“My personal perspective is that we’re at the beginning of that trend,” he said. “Consumers will continue to demand more personalized, more customized, more functional-forward innovation.”

Propel has also seen consumers gravitate toward other ways of

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