Ongoing efforts to flatten the COVID-19 curve have given rise to questions about when and how Arizona plans to restart its economy. This week we spoke to Tucson Mayor Regina Romero about when she thinks the state’s stay at home order should end and her plan to help cushion the blow to the city’s economy.
“We are not seeing a decline in COVID-19 cases, we are not seeing widespread available testing and we are still not seeing the capacity ramping up for contact tracing, so unfortunately I do not see May 1 … for the community and businesses to open back up. And that’s based on the facts that we have in front of us,” Romero said. She said predicting when it would be safe to lift restrictions remains difficult because cases have yet to maintain a decreased trajectory for 14 days or longer.
On the topic of Tucson’s economy, Romero said sales taxes dropped 25% in March alone. The city recently put $1 million in a new resiliency fund for small businesses, nonprofits and workers. Her office is also assembling an economic development advisory council.
“With people that represent the University of Arizona, that represent workers, that represent restaurants, small businesses and experts in economic development so that we can start talking about what the city of Tucson can do in terms of policy to turn around the economy in the city,” Romero said.
With uncertainty over how government leaders plan to lift restrictions and allow businesses to open, we got analysis on the challenges ahead from 1030 KVOI AM Tipping Point host Zach Yentzer and KJZZ The Show host Steve Goldstein.
“We went from a state legislature looking at a $700 million surplus and now a $1.5 billion deficit almost overnight. It looks terrible but as many leaders have said you have to think about the health of the citizens first. Because if they’re not healthy they won’t be able to spend at your business anyway,” Goldstein said.
“On the recovery front, I think we’re going to have to explore things like public-private partnerships to fund everything from community education to economic rebuild,” Yentzer said. “Infrastructure, education and economy are going to be the things that we’re going to have to locally seed ourselves and we’re going to have to start doing it immediately.”
The COVID-19 pandemic created a unique set of challenges for Arizona’s agricultural industry. Tony Paniagua visited a cotton and durum wheat farm owned by Daniel Pacheco in Marana. Pacheco shared his concerns that nations hit hard by the coronavirus like China and Italy may import less of his crops, ultimately causing profits to plunge. University of Arizona agriculture and resource economics professor George Frisvold also discussed how the pandemic has simultaneously disrupted supply and demand across the agricultural system.
Among the experts tracking the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis, University of Arizona epidemiologist Michael Worobey told Arizona 360 he sees no indication that warmer weather this summer will help slow the spread of the coronavirus, keeping the onus on individuals to practice social distancing even as government leaders ease stay at home orders.
“We’re all going to have to be really smart and responsible, again, bearing in mind that you can transmit the virus before you feel a single twinge of illness,” Worobey said. “If the virus manages to make its way into you and you don’t take those precautions it could then be the virus that gets into a long-term care facility or another area where people are so vulnerable.”
Worobey also discussed the potential for a second surge in cases to happen sooner than the fall as some have speculated.
“If we release these socially distancing measures too early, we’re going to see a surge whether it’s in the summer or the fall. The only escape from this is TTI: test, trace, isolate. So, to the extent that we can, we need to ramp up the virus testing,” Worobey said.
As Arizona continues to confirm coronavirus cases, the demand for personal protective equipment for health care workers and first responders has also remained consistent. Pima County Health Department interim director Dr. Bob England discussed where the need exists in the county and how facilities are adapting.
“I’m not at all sure why it’s been so hard for this country to produce some of the material it needs. But the hospitals right now, for day-to-day use, are in really good shape. Some of our long-term care facilities have issues, as do some of the first responder agencies. But we’ve been pushing it out just as fast as we can,” England said.
England also explained how the county makes its projections about when cases may peak and possible strategies for reopening the state.
“One thing about all those mathematical models that you’ve seen in news reports and in articles is that they’re not so much designed to accurately predict the future as they are to show you, relatively speaking, what happens if you do different courses of action,” England said. “We’re working pretty much hand-in-glove – all of the counties and the state health department – in developing our criteria that we think are important for a phased reopening.”