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Arizona healthcare workers: State opened too soon, public in ‘denial’

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  • Arizona healthcare workers told Business Insider they’re worried that the public is not taking the coronavirus outbreak in the state seriously.
  • “I think there’s a lot of denial,” Dr. Sandra Till said, adding that some people don’t think it will happen to them, or if does it won’t be severe.
  • Dr. Bradley Dreifuss also told Business Insider he thinks the state opened up prematurely, without having proper testing, tracing and isolation protocols in place.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Beyond the stress of tending to COVID-19 patients in one of the nation’s hotspots, Arizona healthcare workers 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 and began to reopen — with the slogan “Return stronger” — in early May, before the entire stay-at-home order was completely lifted on May 15. According to AZCentral, on May 15 the state reported a 3.9% increase in cases for a total at the time of 13,169 cases. More than 65o deaths were reported that day, and deaths had been spiking for the entire week prior.

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

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 Center for Disease Control for reopening.

NPR also 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. On Monday, Gov. Doug Ducey implemented new measures to contain the spread including pausing the operation of several types of businesses including bars and gyms. 

On Wednesday, the state reported a record of almost 4,900 new coronavirus cases over the past day, CNBC reported. On Thursday another 3,333 cases were recorded. 

“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.

Dr. Sandra Till, a pulmonologist and critical care intensivist at Banner University Medical Center Phoenix, told Business Insider that 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.

Sarah Barr, a physician’s assistant in Phoenix, was diagnosed with coronavirus in late May. She told Insider it took a week to get her results, and she said she’s not sure if she caught the virus in the hospital where she works or out in the community. 

“So I’m always wondering like, did I do this because I went out to eat for my birthday, you know?” she said of going to a restaurant for her 40th birthday after the state reopened. “And our waiter at the restaurant, he was not wearing a mask. It’s just, it’s scary people aren’t taking it seriously.”

Till explained that when she’d been out in town she notices people not wearing masks or socially distancing and that concerns her based on what she’s seeing in the hospital with patients in their 20s to 90s who end intubated because of COVID-19. 

“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 then feel confined. 

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 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.”

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