- Associated Press - Thursday, June 4, 2020

PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Thursday defended his decision to reopen the state even as a surge of new coronavirus cases has emerged and the statewide death toll nears 1,000 people.

The Republican governor said the increases in cases, hospitalizations and deaths were projected by state public health officials and that Arizona has the hospital resources to handle the increase. He said the statewide stay-home order that ended on May 15 was designed to slow the surge in cases and allow time to make sure there were resources to care for the sick - and that’s what happened.

“What we wanted to do is be prepared for this,” Ducey said at a news conference. “We want to care and provide comfort for people that are sick. Arizona is prepared.”

The Health Services Department on Thursday reported 530 new cases of the virus and 15 additional deaths. A total of 996 people have died since the first death was reported on March 21. The number of confirmed cases is now at 22,753.

When the order ended on May 15, the state had recorded 651 deaths and 13,169 cases. Ten days later, case numbers began climbing. That’s about the time it takes for virus symptoms to appear.

A case tracker updated daily by Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute shows the three-day average number of COVID-19 cases hit a monthly low of 222 on May 25. By Wednesday the three-day average topped 1,000 new cases per day.

Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said the agency is closely monitoring the recent rise in new cases and hospitalizations that came about two weeks after Ducey ended his stay-at-home order.

“This was expected,” she said Thursday. “As people come back together, we know that there is going to be transmission of COVID-19.”

Christ said hospital use has risen with new virus patients and with the resumption of elective surgeries that were halted in March to preserve supplies. She also noted that as people resume travel, there are more accidents and other trauma cases seeking treatment.

But neither she nor Ducey would say what it would take to reimpose restrictions that have mainly ended.

Both said they want the most vulnerable people - older Arizonans, particularly those with health issues - to remain at home to avoid the disease. Everyone else should continue social distancing, wear masks when in public and practice good hygiene to avoid getting the virus.

“This virus is not going away,” Ducey said.

Asked whether he felt responsible for the increasing death toll since he allowed the state to reopen, Ducey said he did not.

“Everything we have done since the first emergency order on March 11 and the first executive order to protect people in long-term care has been to reduce the spread of this virus and to save and protect as many lives as possible,” he said. “And I’m confident we’ve made the best and most responsible decisions possible guided by public health the entire way.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some - especially older adults and people with existing health problems - it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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