Governor Ducey lets stay-at-home order expire; will he order Arizonans back to work?

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On Tuesday, the nation’s top medical experts were testifying before Congress about the danger of opening up the economy too soon. At Senate Hearing, Government Experts Paint Bleak Picture of the Pandemic:

Two of the federal government’s top health officials painted a grim picture of the months ahead on Tuesday, warning a Senate panel that the coronavirus pandemic was far from contained, just a day after President Trump declared that “we have met the moment and we have prevailed.”

The officials — Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, and Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — predicted dire consequences if the nation reopened its economy too soon, noting that the United States still lacked critical testing capacity and the ability to trace the contacts of those infected.

If states reopen their economies too soon, he warned, “there is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control,” which could result not only in “some suffering and death that could be avoided, but could even set you back on the road to trying to get economic recovery.”

NBC News also reported on White House task force documents it obtained which show testing, access to medical gear and treatments are still works in progress. Trump ignores new warning signs in push to reopen the country:

On Monday, NBC News reported exclusively that unreleased White House coronavirus task force tables show that communities from Charlotte, North Carolina, and Phoenix to Minneapolis and the Houston suburbs experienced major surges in week-over-week positive tests for COVID-19. The data include significant increases in some rural counties, including those where outbreaks in prisons are now being reported for the first time.

[In] the documents obtained by NBC News and reported here first, the task force is reporting internally that it has not yet achieved its own goals for reopening. In those documents, prepared late last week and marked “privileged and confidential,” federal officials wrote that while they have “completed” guidelines for states to reopen, they still haven’t developed a vaccine or treatments, ensured “adequate access to laboratory diagnostics,” or fully enabled front-line workers to “obtain and preserve critical medical supplies.”

* * *

Trump’s administration is teeming with health experts and stocked with data showing where the virus is spreading. Alarm bells are being rung. But the president has chosen to drown them out with the sound of his own proclamations.

From the earlier NBC News report:

The spiking infection rates suggest that the pandemic is spreading quickly outside major coastal population centers that were early hot spots, while governors of some of the states that are home to new hot spots are following Trump’s advice to relax stay-at-home restrictions.

Which brings us to our boy genius, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, who on the same day all of this was happening, announced Arizona’s stay-at-home order expires Friday; gyms, pools, sports leagues can start up this week:

Gyms, spas and community swimming pools will be allowed to open Wednesday, and professional sports leagues will be allowed to begin practicing in Arizona after the state’s current stay-at-home order expires Friday, Gov. Doug Ducey said Tuesday.

Movie theaters also were given the green light to open Saturday.

Those activities can resume as long as appropriate health precautions are in place, Ducey said in an announcement that marks just the latest loosening of policies enacted over a month ago to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“This is a green light to continue going forward on the way out of this pandemic. Now, this is not a green light to speed. This is a green light to proceed with caution,” Ducey said at a press conference in Phoenix. [Dude, a “caution” light is yellow.]

The announcement does not signal the end of the new coronavirus in Arizona.

Asked if the coronavirus has peaked in Arizona, the governor said: “I don’t know. That’s what we’re doing is preparing for the worst-case scenario.”

Why don’t you know? Are you not listening to the scientists? Oh, right, Gov. Ducey silences the scientists who told him what he didn’t want to hear (updated).

Ducey called on Arizonans to continue physical distancing and practicing the sort of hygienic measures that have become a new way of life for many.

But Ducey said data show Arizona meets the White House’s criteria for loosening some public health precautions. As the state has ramped up testing for COVID-19, a declining percentage of those tests are coming back positive, he said.

Ducey is cherry-picking a single data point which supports his decision, while ignoring other White House criteria, like 14 days of declining positive tests. Here is the data from Kaiser Family Foundation for Arizona.

COVID-19: Daily Trends
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COVID-19: Cumulative Trends

Screen Shot 2020-05-13 at 5.36.51 AM

The Arizona Mirror adds, Ducey: Stay-at-home order will expire; gyms and pools can re-open:

According to data from the Arizona Department of Health Services, the number of total daily hospitalizations due to COVID-19 has remained high since late April, when they surpassed 700 for the first time and have remained above that threshold since. As of Monday, 765 Arizonans were hospitalized with the coronavirus, the second highest total since the outbreak began.

Twenty deaths were reported to the department for Monday, as well, among the higher single-day totals Arizona has seen due to COVID-19. Many coronavirus deaths aren’t reported in real time, so daily totals aren’t always an accurate reflection of the previous day’s count.

Ducey wasn’t troubled by the hospitalization numbers, which he described as “steady, if not flat.” And he said many of the deaths Arizona is seeing are among people who are more vulnerable to the virus.

In other words, “They were going to die anyway, so what’s the big deal?” We’re just “culling the herd” of the weak and infirm and the elderly.

A new study by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicted that Arizona will have the greatest increase in deaths of any state in the country. The study projected that Arizona will see a total of 2,987 deaths from COVID-19, a 541-percent increase. As of Tuesday morning, 562 deaths from the coronavirus had been reported in Arizona.

Back to The Republic reporting:

A total of 11,736 people had tested positive for the new coronavirus in Arizona as of Tuesday and 562 people had died. The state reported it had completed nearly 123,000 tests for COVID-19 statewide as of Tuesday, with 7.5 percent coming back positive. A little more than 36,000 tests for COVID-19 antibodies had been completed, with 3.2 percent positive.

And if the Navajo Nation were a state of its own, it would have the highest per-capita rate of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country, behind only New York, as of Monday. The tribe spans a large area of northeast Arizona, and parts of New Mexico and Utah.

Public health officials have warned against skipping over the guidelines set out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which call for restrictions to remain in place until the number of cases in a state have declined for two weeks and the state has a robust testing program in place for health care workers at risk.

Ducey said Arizona had checked the necessary boxes to loosen restrictions in explaining why the current stay-at-home order would expire after Friday.

This is flat-out false.

“Overall, it’s a defensible decision. Hopefully, people and business respond thoughtfully,” said Dr. Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association and former director of the state Department of Health Services, arguing the key will be how individuals as well as businesses, churches and event organizers proceed.

The governor announced a second order, which requires businesses and other institutions to implement policies for limiting the spread of COVID-19, in accordance with guidance from state and federal governments.

It also encourages Arizonans to avoid social situations where physical distancing is not possible.

Businesses such as movie theaters can reopen Saturday, if those businesses have appropriate measures in place.

And while major league sports would resume without fans, that part of Ducey’s announcement comes just after Major League Baseball owners on Monday sent a proposal to the players association that would, if approved, open the 2020 MLB season on July 4.

* * *

In announcing the new policies, Ducey nodded to the disruptions in daily life around Arizona that have come with the stay-at-home order and the coronavirus more broadly.

The state is grappling with an unprecedented spike in the number of Arizonans out of work as businesses have slashed hours or ceased operations altogether, leaving many to depend on unemployment insurance and charities for support.

Political pressure has mounted, too, with some elected officials increasingly casting the public policy options for responding to the virus in deeply partisan terms.

Ducey has already tweaked pieces of the stay-at-home order, which he had previously extended to May 15.

The state allowed retailers to partially resume in-person service last week and restaurants could resume dine-in service on Monday.

The real reason Gov. Ducey is easing stay-at-home orders (not science-based)

Within Ducey’s Republican Party, however, legislators openly question whether he has gone too far.

Some Arizona lawmakers have called for a resolution to end the current state of emergency. One group of activists launched a campaign to recall Ducey. Though it is unlikely to gather the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed, it is a sign of the times, much like the protests that have come to the Capitol and the few sheriffs who have said they will not cite anyone for disobeying the governor’s stay-at-home order.

Now that Governor Ducey is lifting his stay-at-home orders, how long will it be before government-imposed unemployment comes to an end, and the governor orders Arizonans back to work, even in a rising pandemic? Huffington Post reports, Trump Administration Tells States To Yank Benefits From Those Who Won’t Return To Work:

Congress created special unemployment benefits so that laid-off workers could stay home while the coronavirus pandemic rages outside, but the Trump administration wants states to make sure that nobody’s getting benefits if they could be at work.

The U.S. Department of Labor has told states, which implement unemployment insurance programs according to federal rules, that they should ask employers to notify the state if someone turns down an offer to come back to work.

In a guidance memo on Monday evening, the Labor Department said “states are strongly encouraged to request employers to provide information when workers refuse to return to their jobs for reasons that do not support their continued eligibility for benefits.”

The guidance comes as President Donald Trump is calling on states to lift restrictions on commerce so that the economy might get back on track ahead of the November election, even though the national death toll from COVID-19 is still rising at a brisk pace.

“We have to be warriors,” Trump said last week. “We can’t keep our country closed down for years.”

Several Republican-led states have already said business can resume and specifically warned that workers can’t receive unemployment benefits if their employer wants them back. At the same time, states are still struggling with the basic task of distributing benefits.

Several laid-off workers have told HuffPost that they’re still waiting for payments, including some who filed their claims more than a month ago. Millions of workers have probably not been paid, said Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank.

The government’s “responsibility is to pay for weeks of unemployment compensation when the payments are due,” Stettner said, noting that the federal standard for acceptable performance is that 87% of benefits are paid within 21 days ― a standard that has likely not been met.

More than 30 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits in the last six weeks, an unprecedented surge in claims. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act provided an extra $600 per week in unemployment compensation and made independent contractors and the self-employed eligible for benefits for the first time. The new policies forced states to attempt to quickly update antiquated computer systems.

Employers are generally encouraged to report anyone on unemployment who refuses an offer of “suitable work” ― this is not a new feature of the program. But the Labor Department is asking for a crackdown on people who decline work offers when it’s not clear if the definition of “suitable” includes risking exposure to a highly contagious, brand-new virus that is still mysterious to doctors and that has killed more than 82,000 Americans in a matter of weeks.

“If this guidance is going up that people need to be reported for refusing suitable work, then the department should also make it clear that you shouldn’t be offering unsafe work and considering it suitable,” said Michele Evermore, a senior researcher and policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project.

In an April letter, NELP asked for clarification on the parameters of “suitable work,” pointing to a longstanding regulation that says “a position shall not be deemed to be suitable for an individual if the circumstances present any unusual risk to the health, safety, or morals of the individual.”

In a followup letter on Tuesday, NELP and more than 200 liberal groups, including the AFL-CIO and the NAACP, called on the Labor Department to clarify the meaning of “suitable work,” saying the department’s “limited and misleading statements on the issue will require countless vulnerable workers to choose between their livelihood and the threat of contracting COVID-19 or exposing their loved ones to the deadly disease.”

The Labor Department has previously said that someone can refuse work and still be eligible for unemployment benefits if they’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19 or if someone at their workplace has received such a diagnosis. Merely refusing to work as a precaution, however, would make a person ineligible for benefits unless a medical professional has advised the person to self-quarantine. (The department has an eligibility Q&A on its website.)

“Donald Trump has no plan to fight the virus, which is why his administration is pushing workers to view themselves as ‘warriors’ and put their lives on the line for the president’s political benefit,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said. “Workers should not be forced to choose between their health and their ability to keep food on the table.”

Rest assured that Governor Ducey will soon follow the lead of the governor of Iowa, “Cruella De Vil,” a new star on Fox News, and will order Arizonans back to work or you will lose your unemployment benefits, even if a new wave of coronavirus infections is surging. Iowa tells workers to return to their jobs or lose unemployment benefits, despite warnings that reopening could lead to a 2nd wave of infections. Your lives must be sacrificed to the capitalist gods.




 

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