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PHOENIX, Ariz. — Arizona physicians today warned Gov. Doug Ducey and legislators that loosening COVID-19 protections now before enough people have been vaccinated will endanger health and safety, and threaten to prolong people’s suffering and economic pain.
“Ending COVID-19 protections now before our work is done vaccinating and protecting people, including our most vulnerable citizens, is like spiking the ball on the 5-yard line,” said Dr. Ricardo Correa, an endocrinologist in Phoenix. “For the past year, too many people have struggled, sacrificed and died to get to this point in the pandemic when we are close to eradicating COVID-19. Arizona’s policymakers must resist the temptation to fling the door open when we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We should focus on vaccinating more people — especially underrepresented minorities — we must continue to observe safety measures, and we must wear masks, continue physical distancing, and minimize crowds in the meantime. Otherwise we are just rolling the welcome mat for COVID-19 to return with a vengeance.”
Ducey announced on March 5 that he would allow businesses to operate at full capacity. Republican legislators also introduced proposals that would allow businesses to ignore requirements to wear masks. Arizona policymakers’ push to fully resume normal activities flies in the face of data and evidence linking activities like indoor dining and not wearing a mask in public to increased infections and disease spread.
The rush to fully reopen Arizona’s businesses comes as Arizona has vaccinated only a fraction of its residents: Only around 10 percent of Arizonans have received both doses of a vaccine for maximum efficacy, and only 19.7 percent have received one dose. Epidemiologists and health experts say between 70 and 90 percent of the population would need to be vaccinated to achieve herd, or community, immunity, when enough people have immunity to stop COVID-19 from spreading within the population.
“Arizona is nowhere near community immunity, and we shouldn’t be throwing gasoline on a fire that we are slowly starting to control,” said Dr. Cadey Harrel, a family medicine specialist in Tucson. “As physicians, we urge Gov. Doug Ducey and Arizona’s legislators to listen to the science. The facts tell us, again and again, that until we get at least 70 percent of Arizona’s population vaccinated, we should continue to wear masks and social distance. No one wants to end up back in square one, with more people infected, more hospitalizations and more needless suffering in our communities. We are not out of the woods yet, and it would be foolish to act as if we are.”
The physicians echoed public health experts’ warnings about reopening the economy prematurely while cases remain high, too few people are vaccinated and more contagious variants and mutations of COVID-19 have begun spreading. The more contagious B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19 has been reported in Arizona. Additionally, community disease spread remains high in eight of Arizona’s 15 counties, including its most populous, Maricopa County, and transmission is substantial in four.
“Getting rid of mask requirements and physical distancing in Arizona now would endanger a lot of people, and disproportionately harm marginalized populations and essential workers who are more likely to have chronic conditions, more likely to work jobs that expose them to COVID-19 and less likely to have access to health care,” said Dr. Dionne Mills, a board certified obstetrician/gynecologist working as a hospitalist in Glendale. “We need to focus on better strategies to increase vaccinations in our underserved communities rather than loosening the restrictions. Getting more people vaccinated is how Arizona can get back to normal safely and responsibly, not by ignoring the science and playing chicken with a virus. Before loosening safety measures, Gov. Ducey must get all essential workers vaccinated and protected. Until we vaccinate enough people, protect those who are vulnerable and most likely to be exposed and drive down infection rates, we are at risk of prolonging the suffering and delaying our return to normal.”
Latino/Hispanic people and Native Americans in Arizona are hospitalized and killed at higher rates from COVID-19 compared with white people. A study also showed that essential workers, often in low-wage and public-facing jobs, are more likely to die from COVID-19.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, Mar. 12, 2021
NOTE: The physicians above are speaking in their capacity as members of the Committee to Protect Medicare. They should be identified only as indicated in this news release.