Coronavirus cases in Arizona dropped 75% after mask mandates began, officials say in new CDC report

PHOENIX - Arizona COVID-19 cases rose 151% after a statewide stay at home order expired and fell 75% after local mask mandates, a new report said.
The report, released this week by the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was written by officials from the Arizona Department of Health, including Director Dr. Cara Christ.
A stay at home order in Arizona expired on May 15, and two weeks later - between June 1 and June 15 - the daily average number of COVID-19 cases rose 151%, the report said. The incubation period for a person exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus to develop COVID-19 is approximately two days to two weeks.
The surge in cases overwhelmed the state healthcare system with an increase in extremely sick COVID-19 patients in need of care.
On June 6, as COVID-19 hospital stays in Arizona increased, Christ sent a letter to hospitals across the state asking them to "fully activate" their emergency plans.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Arizona peaked between June 29 and July 2, stabilized between July 3 and July 12, and declined approximately between July 13 and August 7 75% back, says the report.
"Mitigation measures, including mask mandates that are implemented and enforced nationwide, appear to have been effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19 in Arizona," the report said.
No restriction of local jurisdiction in the report
What the report fails to make clear is that the local jurisdiction of Arizona governor Doug Ducey was prevented from imposing mask requirements until the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 aggressively spread across the state as early as June 17 spread. Arizona does not have a nationwide mask mandate.
"If they had been allowed to do this sooner, some, if not all, of those jurisdictions would have put these mandates in place earlier and our high infection rate would have been lower," said Dr. Bob England, who until June was interim director of the Pima County Department of Health and former Maricopa County Director of Health for a year.
Governor Doug Ducey dons his mask as he leaves a press conference at the University of Arizona Medical College at Phoenix, Phoenix, on August 31, 2020.
"But that's all in hindsight. What's important now as we move into the winter months and we all expect this infection to continue to rise, locals need to continue to be able to enforce mitigating measures like masks."
Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, wrote in a blog post Thursday that the state's report was "word forged" to omit vital information about the mask problem.
Humble wrote that "brave elected officials in county and local government across the state" had asked Ducey for permission to make mask requirements and that many of them later "faced backlash from elements of their electorate" once those requirements were met .
Under pressure from the medical community and some local leaders, Ducey said on June 17 that jurisdictions such as cities and counties within the state could issue their own mask mandates to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Both Ducey and Christ wore face masks at the June 17 press conference, which they had rarely seen before that day.
After Ducey gave them the authority to do so, most areas of the state quickly issued mask mandates.
Ducey stopped allowing local authorities to take other mitigation measures related to the virus. And although some medical experts asked for a nationwide mask mandate, he didn't issue one.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Arizona stabilized two weeks after that June 17 order, although hospital admissions continued to rise.
On June 29, Christ declared that hospitals could activate "emergency care standards" that control the allocation of scarce resources to patients based on factors such as their likelihood of survival.
Closing bars, gyms, and theaters may have helped
The number of COVID-19 cases in Arizona declined between July 13 and August 7, about two weeks after Ducey ordered bars, gyms, theaters, water parks and tubing to close.
Ducey's executive order, "Break From Arizona's Reopening", of June 29, also restricted the number of swimming pools at 10 am and public gatherings at 50 pm. The executive order paused reopening until at least July 27th and allowed individual companies and organizations to file reopening requests as long as they meet certain requirements.
A combination of voluntary and enforceable measures to contain the spread of the virus is more effective than any single measure, the report said.
"Mitigation measures prescribed by public order can effectively increase social distancing, and wearing masks has prevented the transmission of SARS-CoV-2," the report's authors write.
The report says mitigation measures like masks, shop closings, and the state's promotion of social distancing and good hand hygiene may not be the only factors influencing the decline in COVID-19 case numbers in Arizona.
Travel restrictions, measures in neighboring states and individual decisions cannot be ruled out as influencing the number of cases, the authors write, emphasizing that they have not assessed how well the Arizonans have complied with the COVID-19 mandates and guidelines.
White House: AZ in 'yellow' zone for events
Arizona's COVID-19 metrics continued to stabilize and declined in September. There has been an increase in hospital stays recently, but it is too early to say if the increase is a trend.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force listed Arizona in a "green" zone for the rate of positive tests on September 27, records show - 4.9% or less, and the middle "yellow" zone for COVID-19- Cases. This shows between 10 cases and 50 new cases per 100,000 residents in the previous week among the lower rates in the country.
Other highlights of the most recently available data from the White House Task Force:
In the week of September 14 through September 20, 6% of Arizona nursing homes had at least one new COVID-19 case, 18% had at least one new COVID-19 case, and 1% had at least one new resident Covid-19 death.
Arizona had 47 new cases per 100,000 population last week, compared with a national average of 93 per 100,000.
Current staff employed by the federal government as a means of supporting the Arizona State response are: 11 in support of FEMA's operational activities and 3 in support of CDC's epidemiological activities.
The federal government has supported surge testing in rural Arizona counties.
Between September 19 and September 25, an average of 51 patients with confirmed COVID-19 and 134 patients with suspected COVID-19 were reported as newly admitted to Arizona hospitals each day. An average of 83% of hospitals reported either new confirmed or new suspected COVID patients each day during this period.
Arizona Republic reporter Maria Polletta contributed to this article.
Follow health reporter Stephanie Innes on Twitter @stephanieinnes
This article originally appeared in the Republic of Arizona: COVID-19 cases fell 75% in Arizona after mask mandate, a CDC report said

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