“Arizona is the new national hotspot for COVID-19” tweeted Arizona Democratic Congressman Greg Stanton on June 14. The enormous rise of COVID cases and hospitalizations in the Grand Canyon State has put Arizona into the national and global spotlight as a case study of how not to handle a global pandemic.
Every week, Arizona is breaking records for positive cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. On June 20, Arizona reported its highest single-day total so far, with 3,284 cases. Since June 18, the state has been surpassing 2,000 new cases every day, taking its total to nearly 55,000 as of this writing.
The situation appears to be quite dire, but Gov. Doug Ducey seems content sticking his head in the sand, continuing to reopen, full-steam ahead. There remains little to no clear policy guidance from the state government other than the governor reminding Arizonans to wash hands and wear a facemask.
How did we get into this situation? Why did the governor open up Arizona at breakneck speed with no policies in place?
On May 15, Ducey’s stay-at-home order expired. Following the Trump administration’s lead of downplaying rising cases in the country and pleas to “liberate” locked-down states, Ducey had little political will to consider extending the order.
The stay-at-home order appeared to keep Arizona’s COVID cases more manageable and limited. However, as Katherine Ellingson, an epidemiologist at the University of Arizona explains, “We never had that consistent downward trend that would signal it’s time to reopen and that we have everything in place to do it safely.”
Even back in early March, Ducey’s handling of the crisis brought criticism from Arizona’s Teachers Union. In a statement, the Arizona Education Association called on Ducey to ensure safety measures, which would protect students, families, and educators. The union said “district leaders and staff must be able to guarantee reopening in a way that is safe for everyone involved.” It was a call to action that still goes unanswered.
After Trump’s visit to the state in early May, Ducey opened up Arizona seemingly overnight to a back-to-normal basis. Over Memorial Day weekend, Arizonans flocked to their favorite watering holes. Videos were played over the local news showing people crowded in downtown Scottsdale, a favorite bar and clubbing destination, standing shoulder to shoulder with not a facemask in sight.
During a press conference on June 11, an unmasked Ducey assured Arizonans the rise in cases was attributable only to increased testing, and if we were to get sick, not to worry because there will be more than enough hospital beds waiting for us.
However, testing does not fully explain the situation since testing spiked in mid-May, but cases continue to reach new heights on a daily basis. Also, Ducey’s assurance of hospital availability holds no water. On June 17, Arizona’s overall hospital capacity reached 85%.
The abysmal handling of the COVID outbreak pushed Tucson Mayor Regina Romero to declare: “There is a pandemic, and it’s spreading uncontrollably. Ducey is just putting up his hands and saying, ‘The spread is happening, and we just have to go about our business.’ ”
Ducey still refuses to issue a mandatory facemask policy statewide. Instead, he’s left the decision up to city mayors. City Councils in Queen Creek and Prescott opted to make facemasks optional in public spaces.
Life in Arizona meanwhile seems to carry on blindly with the encouragement of our state and federal governments. One gets the feeling they are living in some sort of Twilight Zone, where facts, statistics, and health have no bearing on the pursuit of what’s really important—the almighty dollar.
Ducey and the ultra-right Arizona legislature, like Trump, put profits over the welfare and health of the people. The economy is what matters the most; the accumulation of capital must carry on. And as has become the norm, it is once again people of color from working class communities who suffer the most from the pandemic.
A fitting quotation from Karl Marx in Capital sums up the horrors of the situation under pandemic capitalism: “Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks. The vampire will not lose its hold . . . so long as there is a muscle, a nerve, a drop of blood to be exploited.”
How long will Arizona’s working people be willing to risk their lives for the vampire of corporate profits?