PHOENIX – When President Donald Trump steps up to the church podium Tuesday at an event hosted by Turning Point Action, the conservative advocacy group based here will visit a very different Arizona than the one he last traveled just six weeks ago.
This time, the president is facing a coronavirus pandemic that is wreaking havoc on the state with no signs of diminishing.
As of Monday night, Arizona had recorded 54,586 cases, a doubling of cases in the past 15 days and 1,342 deaths, according to the NBC News count.
The president will also visit Yuma on Tuesday morning to tour the border wall construction operations. Two workers helping to build the wall living in the Ajo community have hired COVID-19, according to Aaron Pacheco, spokesman for the Pima County Health Department.
Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican, reversed his position on the masks last week, allowing counties and cities to order them from residents if they wish. The governor relented after weeks during which numerous public health experts, doctors, mayors and county officials urged the move.
“We recommend that all Arizonans wear a face mask,” Ducey said at a press conference. “As long as you can’t distance yourself socially. At the grocery store. At the pharmacy. At the bank. When you’re on public transportation. We’re going to change and update the guidance so that local governments can implement mask and face coverage policies to they can determine the application. “
Still, some localities say that as cases continue to rise to record levels in the state, they remain concerned about obtaining adequate levels of certain items of personal protective and test equipment. Others say that in this environment, the President’s visit itself represents a possible public health disaster.
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Dr. Joe Gerald, a professor of community, environment, and politics at the University of Arizona with a background in public health, told NBC News last week that the governor’s move was a “welcome step in what he would consider the right direction. ” But he warned that the Trump rally, to be held at Dream City Church, which can house thousands of people, could be a public health disaster waiting to happen.
“The last time President Trump visited Arizona, it prompted Ducey to speed up the pace of the reopening,” said Gerald, who has been publishing weekly reports on the pandemic. “We pledged to lift the order to stay home on May 16. A lot of that seemed to be temporarily related to President Trump’s visit. It’s always interesting and disturbing when President Trump visits. So who knows what this event has account Store? “
During the weekend, there were major complications for many Arizonans looking for evidence, with many hours of waiting or denied. Banner Health, the state’s largest hospital provider, rejected asymptomatic people, while another large urgent care provider said it couldn’t change test results in less than a week.
Arizonans also waited more than five hours at some test locations, including NextCare’s urgent care facilities.
“We just can’t scale fast enough,” said Sonya Engle, director of operations for Sonora Quest Laboratories. “As we increased demand, the prevalence increased.”
The governor said last week that he would call the Arizona National Guard to increase the search for state-wide contacts, a task that National Guard members have already performed in other states, including Arkansas, Delaware, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington.
Approximately 300 members of the Arizona National Guard are scheduled to work in coordination with the state Department of Health Services, as well as with the 15 county health departments, to assist with finding contacts.
However, while Ducey has encouraged all Arizonans to wear masks, he did not go on to order masks statewide, a move California Governor Gavin Newsom imposed late last week. Other states, including Virginia and Massachusetts, have had similar requests for weeks.
In an interview last week, Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino said he personally knew at least half of the 12 people who have succumbed to the disease in his town of 20,000 people.
“Almost everyone in Nogales knows someone who died or they know a family who is in quarantine,” he said.
Nogales is the county seat of Santa Cruz County, which as of Monday had 1,498 confirmed cases in a population of approximately 40,000 throughout the county.
One of the recent cases in Arizona was that of Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, who said Wednesday that he was diagnosed with COVID-19 on a White House exam just before meeting with the president. (Lamb remarkably said in early May that he would not enforce the state order to stay home, believing it to be unconstitutional.)
Meanwhile, the state capital Phoenix has not received any of the 1.74 million N95 masks it has ordered cumulatively since the crisis began, and does not expect the first masks to arrive until July. This is due to a combination of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s diversion program, questionable suppliers who were unable to deliver adequate usable products, and long delays in the conventional supply chain.
“We don’t know precisely what happened to the supply chain, but there was an increase in supply demand and it was learned from suppliers that there were problems with shipping products from China,” said Michael Hammett, a city spokesman, last week by email.
Neither Dream City Church nor Turning Point Action answered questions about COVID-19 related protocols during the President’s event.
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As with the president’s recent speech in Tulsa, Oklahoma, attendees are asked to sign disclaimers acknowledging that they will not hold the host of the event or venue accountable if they contract the disease.
However, Turning Point Action intends to comply with the city’s mask order, and said it will distribute masks to those who do not have them.
The city of Phoenix has been in contact with the White House, Hammett said. “Our goal right now is to communicate the requirements to the public and educate on the importance of this public health mandate,” he said by email.
The White House declined to comment on what specific coronavirus prevention protocols would be in effect for the Phoenix event.
“The President takes the health and safety of all those who travel in support of himself and all White House operations very seriously,” said Judd Deere, a White House spokesman.
US Rep. Rubén Gallego, a Democrat representing part of Maricopa County, where health officials have recognized an increase in the spread of the COVID-19 community, urged Trump supporters to “be responsible” as they converge on Dream City Church.
“We are not going to try to ban the president from coming here, because I think it causes more problems and I’m not sure of its legality,” he said in an interview. “But for God’s sake, when you’re in that crowd and they’re all next to each other, please be responsible. Wear a mask.”
Vaughn Hillyard reported from Seattle and Phoenix, Cyrus Farivar from Oakland, California, and Monica Alba from Washington.