Arizona healthcare workers say they’re seeing severe coronavirus cases in people from their 20s to their 90s, but people aren’t taking it seriously in ‘denial’ they won’t get it

Jul 6, 2020

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Business Insider by Sarah Al-Arshani — Sarah Barr, a physician’s assistant in Phoenix, was diagnosed with the coronavirus in late May.

It took a week to get her results, and she’s still not sure if she caught the virus in the hospital where she works or out in the community. After the state reopened, she went to a restaurant for her 40th birthday.

“I’m always wondering like, did I do this because I went out to eat for my birthday?” she told Business Insider. “And our waiter at the restaurant, he was not wearing a mask. It’s just, it’s scary people aren’t taking it seriously.”

Dr. Sandra Till, a pulmonologist and critical care intensivist at Banner University Medical Center Phoenix, told Business Insider she’s seeing patients from their 20s to 90s get intubated because of COVID-19. Then out in the community, she notices people not wearing masks or socially distancing.

“I think there’s a lot of denial,” she said, adding that some people don’t think it will happen to them, or if does it won’t be severe, and some people are even willing to risk death rather than feel confined.

Beyond the stress of tending to COVID-19 patients in one of the nation’s hotspots, Arizona healthcare workers like Barr and Till told Business Insider they’re concerned about catching COVID-19  “either at work or from the community” and they’re worried that the public isn’t taking the pandemic seriously.

Arizona closed on April 1 when cases were still low. But the state began to reopen– under the slogan “Return stronger”–in early May, with the entire stay-at-home order completely lifted on May 15. According to AZCentral, the state reported a 3.9% increase in cases on May 15.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, right, speaks as Vice President Mike Pence, left, watches after the two held a meeting to discuss the surge in coronavirus cases in Arizona Wednesday, July 1, 2020, in Phoenix.

Health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci had advised states not to reopen until they see a steady decrease in cases.

The state has since reported more than 101,000 total cases of the coronavirus and at least 1,810 deaths, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Health experts say Arizona opened up too soon, and that’s why cases are surging

Dr. Bradley Dreifuss, director of rural and global emergency medicine programs at the University of Arizona College of Medicine at Tucson, told Business Insider he thinks the state opened up prematurely, without having proper testing, tracing and isolation protocols in place. He also added that the level of infection was far above the standard set by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for reopening.

NPR reported that health experts have linked Arizona lifting its stay-at-home order with its surge in new cases.

The coronavirus was the one to resurge, and now some businesses are on pause again. Last Monday, Gov. Doug Ducey implemented new measures to contain the spread, including pausing the operation of several types of businesses like bars and gyms.

According to data analyzed by the Harvard Global Health Institute, Arizona currently has had the highest per-capita rate of daily new COVID-19 infections over the past seven days with 49.9 people in the state testing positive per every 100,000 people in Arizona.

Till said she worries about potentially passing the virus to her two young children, but she’s even more concerned they may catch it from their childcare or from the community.

A client works out at Mountainside Fitness as the facility remains open even as Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has issued an executive order for all gyms to close due to the surge in coronavirus cases in Phoenix, Arizona, on July 2, 2020.

Healthcare workers told us they were tired–physically, mentally, and emotionally.

“Then you factor in the fact that [healthcare workers] are emotionally exhausted, and there’s compassion fatigue, and that people have family members at home–they’re now getting sick, whether it be because of our employment or whether it be because of getting sick in the community,” Dreifuss said.

The father of a healthcare worker is frustrated people aren’t wearing masks, and is worried for his daughter’s safety
Not all Arizonians are taking the virus lightly, however. Maricopa County resident Gary Rowe, whose daughter works in a hospital, told Insider he was frustrated with seeing people in businesses not wearing masks.

Rowe said he has approached people in grocery stores and asked them to put on a mask. He said he is usually met with the response that it is none of his businesses or it’s their constitutional right not to wear a mask.

“It’s just, they don’t have any respect for their fellow neighbor, their fellow shopper,” Rowe told Business Insider.

He said he gets updates from his daughter, and he’s concerned about the cases surging and the impact it’s having on healthcare workers, noting that the numbers were down in the state when businesses were shuttered.

“And now that they open it up, and they’re requiring masks, so they say, people aren’t wearing them and look at what’s happening,” Rowe told Insider. “Hospitals are full, completely full. I mean, those nurses are just, they’re fatigued and doctors, you know, I mean it’s terrible.”

Dreifuss and Till both said the community should take more responsibility to limit their exposure and slow the spread of the virus to ease the burden on healthcare workers who are becoming exhausted.

“We know the virus is with us, and it’s not going to go away,” Till said. “What I think everyone feels is that people need to take some responsibility in their daily lives to make an effort, to stop the spread and to slow the spread so that we as doctors and the nurses and respiratory therapists and everyone involved in healthcare is able to do a good job and not completely get mentally burnt out and have, you know, bad consequences after this is over.”