Governor Ducey lied: Banner Health sounds the alarm on a new COVID-19 surge

Cartoon from Stephen Benson, AZ Mirror

Michael Bryan covered Governor Doug Ducey’s weekly press conference on the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday. Ducey Stays on Course for Re-Opening, Despite COVID-19 Resurgence.

Governor Doug Ducey allowed his stay-home orders to end May 15. A surge of new cases began about 10 days later, about the time it takes an infected person to develop symptoms.

Ducey didn’t appear overly concerned on Thursday when he said the surge in cases wasn’t unexpected and not yet a trend that merited a reimposition of restrictions.

Governor Ducey and Arizona DHS Director Dr. Cara Christ are negligently allowing a surge in coronavirus cases to occur in Arizona. The AP reports on Friday, Arizona hits grim milestone as virus deaths top 1,000:

Arizona has hit a grim milestone in its battle with the new coronavirus as deaths topped 1,000 on Friday and the number of new infections soared to a new high.

The state Department of Health Services reported 16 new deaths, bringing the total to 1,012 since the first death was revealed on March 21. The department said 1,578 new cases were tallied, by far the highest daily count since the outbreak began.

The number of emergency room visits and hospitalized patients also hit records. Hospitals told the department that 713 people were seen in emergency rooms Thursday and 1,234 people were hospitalized.

Health officials in Maricopa County, the state’s most populous that has seen about half the state’s cases, sounded the alarm Friday about a large increase in new cases that can’t be attributed to higher rates of testing.

The county’s executive director for public health, Marcy Flanagan, said the county has seen an average of 500 new cases a day this week, up from about 200 a day previously. And hospitalizations and bed use are rapidly rising, although hospitals aren’t yet in crisis mode.

What is clear, she said, is that with the easing of shutdowns across the state, the amount of spread has taken off. And while hospitals can care for everyone now, if the increase isn’t checked, that may not remain the case.

“I can’t tell you if that is in a week, two weeks, in a month,” she said. “But if individuals follow all the recommendations we’re putting out there, which is social distancing whever possible, wearing a cloth face mask when you go out in public and going out only when necessary, I believe it could take us quite a while to get to a concerning level.”

This cautionary optimism is not shared by Banner Health, Arizona’s largest hospital provider, which sounded the alarm on a new COVID-19 surge on Friday. Banner Health’s chief clinician urges COVID-19 precautions or crisis will worsen:

The chief clinical officer at the state’s largest hospital network said Friday that Arizona is headed to a health crisis if residents don’t change their habits to deal with COVID-19.

Dr. Marjorie Bessel said the intensive-care units at the Maricopa County hospitals for Banner Health already are at full capacity. And other hospitals in Arizona are rapidly approaching that point.

Bessel said that’s no surprise, given the increasing number of cases of the coronavirus. That took a big jump Friday, with 1,579 new cases, bringing the tally in Arizona to 24,332.

But she parted ways with Gov. Doug Ducey and state Health Director Cara Christ who have said the increase is largely a factor of more people getting tested.

The doctor noted a sharp spike in infections following the decision in the middle of last month by the governor to scrap his stay-home order.

“We do have community spread of COVID-19 in Arizona and we have had community spread in Arizona,” she said, with people infecting each other through close contact and not taking precautions.

That’s not all.

“We are seeing an increase in the sickest of the sick,” she said.

“These are COVID-19 patients who are in the ICU who are ventilated,” Bessel said. “And those individuals are in our hospitals for a long period of time,” she said.

In fact, Bessel provided data showing the number of Banner patients on ventilators has tripled in less than two weeks.

Here is the fact sheet for Banner Health Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Marjorie Bessel press conference:

On June 5, 2020, Banner Health Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Marjorie Bessel addressed media at a press briefing to discuss COVID-19 trends and data. Slides from her presentation can be found below.

In addition, here are some of the key messages from the discussion:

  • Arizona’s COVID-19 hospitalizations are rapidly increasing. As of June 4, there were 1,234 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. About 50% of those patients are hospitalized in Banner Health facilities.
  • Banner Health’s Arizona ICUs are very busy. We have been load balancing between Banner hospitals. This means that we transfer patients and resources between Banner facilities to meet the needs of the community while not stressing any one hospital.
  • To date, Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix has seen the highest number of COVID-19 patients within our health system.
  • If these trends continue, Banner will soon need to exercise surge planning and flex up to 125% bed capacity.
  • Most concerning is the steep incline of COVID-19 patients on ventilators. You’ll see this demonstrated on slide number 4 of the presentation. As of yesterday, Banner’s Arizona hospitals had 116 COVID-19 patients on ventilators.
  • These trends are a good reminder for everyone to exercise behaviors that are proven to prevent the spread of COVID-19:
      • Do not leave your home if you are ill except to receive medical care.
      • Wear a mask when you’re in public near others.
      • Stay six feet away from others.
      • Wash your hands frequently.
      • Wipe down surfaces that may be infected.
      • Avoid gatherings of 10 or more people.

Banner Health COVID-19 data PowerPoint

426 KB

So how bad will it get?

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” Bessel said. “What I do know is if you continue to follow a curve like that, at some point we will exceed our capacity.”

The most immediate result of all that would be hospitals will no longer be able to perform elective surgeries. That had been the case until late April. But that was because the governor was worried not about hospital capacity but about the limited supply of masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment.

Bessel said while there’s a clear correlation between the end of the governor’s stay-home order and the sharp increase in cases, she was careful not to say Ducey made a mistake in allowing the directive to expire.

I’ll say it for you: Governor Ducey lifted his weak stay-at-home orders too early in response to political pressure from organized right-wing protestors fomented by President Trump to “liberate” states from stay-at-home orders, and now Arizona has a new surge in COVID-19 cases as a result. Governor Ducey’s political cowardice has negligently resulted in a new surge in COVID-19 cases in Arizona.

The only question now is “does our governor have the political courage to admit he made a mistake and to reimpose stay-at-home orders to prevent our hospitals from exceeding capacity and crashing the hospital care system”?

“Whenever you’re in a pandemic — and COVID-19 is exemplifying that for all of us — there is going to be a constant need for balance between economic strife and health-care strife,” she said.

“They are not mutually exclusive,” Bessel said. “It’s important for people to work so they can put food on the table.”

The doctor also said there was “fatigue” by people having to comply with rules about where they can and cannot go.

“They wish it would go away,” she said.

“It hasn’t gone away,” Bessel continued. “It isn’t going to go away any time soon.”

But she said if the state is easing restrictions on travel and gatherings, “we need to take those other behaviors and need to make sure we’re doing them exquisitely.” She said that’s especially true when, as now, there are indications of an upswing in infections.

One of those, Bessel said, is increased use of masks when people go out or are within 6 feet of each other.

Bessel said she follows her own advice. She came into Friday’s press conference wearing a mask, taking it off only when she was seated at a table at least 6 feet from reporters.

Yet neither Ducey nor state Christ have been wearing masks, not only when speaking to the media but even when they drive to and walk into events together.

Ducey has brushed aside repeated questions about his lack of the use of masks, saying he has one if he needs it. And aides to both did not immediately respond Friday to questions about the habits of their bosses.

Bessel said those images are crucial to protecting public health.

“It’s important for us as leaders to lead by example,” she said.

The doctor said that each day the state can get through the pandemic without exceeding hospital capacity is a day closer to having a vaccine or, more likely, at least having some type of effective treatment.

But she said those who think that Arizona’s hot weather is going to make a difference are mistaken.

“We’re not seeing that,” she said, not only here where the thermometer regularly tops the century mark but in other parts of the world like Brazil, which had outbreaks through their summer.

She said heat — and ultraviolet light — can kill viruses on surface.

“But this is a droplet transmitted disease,” Bessel said. “The way you get it is when you’re within 6 feet of somebody and when you’re not wearing a mask.”

If state government were a business, Governor Doug Ducey and Dr. Cara Christ would be fired for their incompetent negligence in causing preventable illness and death, and replaced with more competent individuals. It’s a shame that we cannot do this to save the lives of Arizonans.


  1. Governor Ducey and Dr. Christ need to step aside. Their cavalier attitude and inaction to this pandemic is criminal. Unbelievable.

  2. the governor and Dr Christ are not doing good job at all, if both of them don’t wear a mask, how can they suggest the Arizonan to wear it?? He just had reopened too early without guidance
    as far as I watch them on a live, they seem to excuse for not doing their jobs.
    The Arizona should remove them! Many people complain about the customers at Costco, they just wear it only at entering and checking out, while they do shopping, they just took off. Awful!
    People gather to the protest without wearing masks or social distancing, it’s obvious that Arizona would increase in infection. The governor never can respond right to questions, he sometimes ignored
    How could he have been elected as the governor???
    Wake up! Arizonan!

  3. Our neighbor to the South, Mexico, reported a record number of new cases on Thursday, as regional leaders in Latin America push to end quarantine measures and kick their economies back into gear. “Coronavirus deaths surge in Brazil, Mexico as regional leaders look to reopen” ,

    “Mexico reported 816 deaths on Thursday, the second consecutive daily record there, while total deaths surpassed 12,000.

    Mexico’s deaths from the virus ranks it seventh among countries worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering.”

    Like Governor Ducey, the President of Mexico is downplaying the surge in coronavirus”

    “Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has also urged his countrymen not to over-react, warning of “psychosis” on Thursday, and noting that deaths per capita for its nearly 130 million people was still far lower than in many other countries.”

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