PHOENIX (AP) - Despite sharply lower coronavirus case counts, Arizona officials should not stop mandating that people wear masks in public as one Phoenix-area city did this week, an Arizona State University researcher said Wednesday.
Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane rescinded his city’s mask mandate Monday, citing a significant drop in virus infections and hospitalizations in the past couple of months. The city imposed the requirement on June 19, two days after Republican Gov. Doug Ducey allowed cities and counties to mandate masks.
Despite the decision by Scottsdale, the city is still covered by a mandate issued by Maricopa County.
Dr. Joshua LaBaer, executive director of the ASU Biodesign Institute, said Lane’s decision is short-sighted.
“Mask-wearing is what is keeping this virus under control,” LaBaer said at his weekly virus media briefing. “It is probably the single best tool we have to prevent the spread of this virus.
“It is incorrect to think that the virus is gone – it is still here, it is widespread in the community,” he added. “It is being kept under control by mask-wearing, and spacing, all the things we’re doing to prevent its spread.”
The ASU Biodesign Institute is conducting COVID-19 research and testing efforts at the university and helping boost testing across metro Phoenix.
The criticism of moves to rescind mask requirements came as Arizona health officials reported 438 more cases of COVID-19 and 27 additional deaths.
The state Department of Health Services said Wednesday the total number of cases in Arizona stands at 215,284 and deaths at 5,525.
Meanwhile, the number of in-patient hospitalizations due to COVID-19 and ventilator usage rose slightly.
According to Johns Hopkins University data analyzed by The Associated Press, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased over the past two weeks by 276 - an increase of 52%.
The increase in the average followed the state Department of Health Service’s recent changing of its case-counting methodology to adopt an updated national standard that newly includes “probable” results from less-accurate antigen testing.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
LaBaer said there’s no sign yet of a surge of cases following the Labor Day holiday weekend. The state saw a big increase following Memorial Day and new case counts eventually topped 5,000 a day in late June as Arizona became a national virus hotspot.
“I don’t think we’re seeing strong evidence for a big post-Labor Day bump,” he said.
The leveling of cases in Arizona comes as the nation topped 200,000 deaths this week, a milestone that makes the U.S. by far the hardest hit country for deaths, according to Johns Hopkins statistics.
The virus is now the third-leading cause of death in Arizona and the U.S., behind only cancer and heart disease, LaBaer said.
“Both cancer and heart disease take a very long time before they actually cause death in people who get them, whereas this virus has become the 3rd leading cause of death in six months,” LaBaer said. “So in half a year it has already outpaced stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, pneumonia, countless other causes of death.”
“This is serious business,” he added.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks.
But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
- Associated Press reporter Terry Tang contributed.
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