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In Arizona, a tale of 2 pandemic realities

The epicenter of the coronavirus in the U.S. appears to be shifting south and west, with some states that were among the first to reopen, like Arizona, experiencing a surge of cases. As officials renew efforts to slow the virus’ spread, however, they are encountering some resistance. Stephanie Sy reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we heard, Arizona has become a new epicenter for COVID-19.

    In fact, it now has more cases per capita than reported by any European country.

    But, as Stephanie Sy reports from Arizona, renewed efforts to flatten the curve are still meeting some resistance.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    At the downtown Phoenix farmers market, Kelvin West did some shopping and picked up extra face masks.

  • Kelvin West:

    Coronavirus is real. It's out there. People are dying from it. And it doesn't matter if you're feeling anything or not.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Others weren't as concerned.

  • Margi Connor:

    I think the coronavirus is a real issue, but I don't feel like the hype behind it is as much as they say it is, in my personal opinion. And so I don't personally feel threatened.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    The Grand Canyon State, which has experienced several weeks of increasing coronavirus cases, has become a tale of two realities, one where people like Ed Ziegler continue to socially distance.

  • Ed Ziegler:

    I'm doing exactly what the CDC says, washing my hands religiously, using my mask, trying to stay away from people as much as I can.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And another where people like Ku Brewer are enjoying weekend brunch as though the pandemic was over.

  • Ku Brewer:

    I'm actually coming to eat to support local business. And people are kind of overreacting to how they're handling the situation.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Under pressure from all sides, the Republican governor, Doug Ducey, began reopening the state's economy in mid-May, one of the first to do so. Cases quickly spiked.

  • Will Humble:

    There's a lot of places that are just winging it and behaving pre-pandemic.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Will Humble is a former state health director. He says many new cases in recent days have been among younger state residents.

  • Will Humble:

    The average age of diagnosis for new cases is 39. And so that number is moving down.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Humble says the problem is not with the state reopening, but how it reopened, allowing for complacency to set in.

  • Will Humble:

    If we had put some compliance measures in place that were enforceable, we would have been able to preserve the gains or most — many of the gains that we made during the stay-at-home order.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Officials are now taking steps to enforce social distancing and mask guidelines in restaurants.

    But Governor Ducey is not talking about shutting back down. He is urging people to stay home.

  • Gov. Doug Ducey:

    There's no magical decision or golden government action that will stop this virus.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    As things stand, for a week, the rate of positive tests each day has been above 20 percent, compared to New York state's positive testing rate, which is hovering at around 1 percent.

  • Will Humble:

    Although one of the things that we're hearing more and more in Arizona now is that, while testing capacity has improved markedly, the turnaround time has been bad. And that's really important, because your contact tracing effectiveness depends on fast turnaround times from the laboratories.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And in the state's worst-affected areas, testing sites are overwhelmed, lines of people waiting to be swabbed.

    Maricopa County, where most Arizonans live, has by far the highest number of cases, deaths and hospitalizations in the state. But other areas are also seeing surges, including Yuma, which borders hot spots in California and Mexico.

  • Tony Reyes:

    We were coming into a summer, and the weather here is great. People just went crazy and started to congregate. And that's driven the numbers higher than we ever expected.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Yuma County Chairman Tony Reyes suggests mind-sets may have something to do with the higher rate of infections he's seeing.

  • Tony Reyes:

    Well, you have a lot of people who believe that anything you mandate is an infringement of their rights. We try to emphasize to our friends and our enemies that this is a health crisis. This is not a political crisis. This is not a cultural crisis.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    But politics have come into play.

  • President Donald Trump:

    And we're doing so well after the plague. It's going away.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    At a rally for President Donald Trump in Phoenix earlier this week, there was no social distancing, and despite the city's ordinance requiring masks in public places, many chose not to wear them.

    For those worried about catching the virus, a mass rally with people coming in from all over the state and beyond defies logic.

  • Alessondra Springmann:

    I have a preexisting condition. If I get this virus, chances are I'd have long term or permanent organ damage, or I'd die.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Heather Frushour knows first hand how serious getting COVID-19 can be.

  • Heather Frushour:

    I got COVID back in March, and it's a long recovery for some, and it was for me. So, we are hesitant to go out.

  • Woman:

    Not a mask in sight.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    But, as others decide to go out, hospitals are closer to reaching capacity.

  • Frank Lovecchio:

    In a word, terrible. Another word is overwhelming.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Emergency department doctor Frank LoVecchio with Valleywise Health is concerned with staffing critical care units.

  • Frank Lovecchio:

    I think a lot of the nurses are tired. A lot of nurses are exhausted. You know, a lot of doctors are exhausted.

  • Sandra Till:

    We are kind of on the exponential part of the curve.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Dr. Sandra Till with Banner Health is seeing intensive care unit beds fill quickly in Arizona's largest hospital system.

  • Sandra Till:

    Critical care is stretched. The hospital beds are stretched. The nurses are stretched.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And Will Humble, the public health expert who's been carefully monitoring Arizona's spiraling COVID crisis, says some models have predicted that, statewide, hospitals might be full as early as mid-July.

  • Will Humble:

    If Arizonans pick it up, if they use their masks, if businesses start to get serious about implementing CDC's mitigation measures, then maybe those models are going to be wrong. I hope they are.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Arizona never flattened the curve before reopening, and now it's scrambling to do so, while trying to stay open.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Stephanie Sy in Phoenix.

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