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Arizona Faces Spike In Coronavirus Cases As Top Health System Runs Low On ICU Beds

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Arizona is one of five states that has seen its number of new cases of coronavirus more than double in the last two weeks. Today alone the state reported 1,300 new cases. Ben Giles of member station KJZZ reports that some health experts wish the state would do more to halt the spread.

BEN GILES, BYLINE: The state's largest hospital system warned last week that their ICU capacity is stretched thin as case numbers rise. Governor Doug Ducey's administration has repeatedly said they prepared for this and that case growth can be explained by an increase in testing. State Health Director Dr. Cara Christ.

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CARA CHRIST: It's not unexpected, especially as we are targeting some of those higher, more vulnerable areas and including higher numbers of long-term care, higher numbers of correctional officers in prison. So we are going to see changing numbers, and we expect that.

GILES: But a growing chorus of health officials say it's not just that the sheer number of cases in Arizona is rising. Marta Wosinska at the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy in D.C. says the share of those tested for the coronavirus who came back positive is also climbing.

MARTA WOSINSKA: The fact that the positivity rate in Arizona is increasing suggests that there's more to it than just testing more.

GILES: Before Governor Ducey let his stay-at-home order expire on May 15, tests came back positive about 5% of the time. Two weeks later, 12% of those tested for coronavirus were positive. Will Humble, the state's former health director, says Ducey squandered an opportunity to maintain Arizona's positive gains by recommending, not requiring, social distancing after his stay-at-home order expired.

WILL HUMBLE: I think what's happened since then is because there was no compliance and enforcement provision built in to the post stay-at-home order executive order behavior has split, both with businesses and with people. And there's no denying what we're seeing in the data, which is that there's a pretty significant rebound in, you know, in new cases.

GILES: Humble said it's not too late to reverse Arizona's troubling trends. He said the governor should issue a new executive order requiring that Arizonans wear face masks and allow local governments to put in place restrictions stronger than the state's recommendations. State officials are developing a mask awareness campaign that may launch next week.

For NPR News, I'm Ben Giles in Phoenix. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: June 11, 2020 at 12:00 AM EDT
An earlier headline for this report said "Arizona ... Runs Out Of ICU Beds." In fact, the state has not run out of ICU beds. Rather, the state's largest hospital system says it is near ICU bed capacity.