The 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic in Arizona:

The Year in Review

This week marks the anniversary of Arizona’s initial case of COVID-19. The index case was a student at ASU that had recently returned from Wuhan. Over the next 12 months, Arizonans have been through a lot.

More than 12,000 Arizonans have lost their lives to COVID-19 and total mortality for the year was nearly 15,000 higher than 2019. Thousands have been hospitalized and recovered but are having long-term health problems. Many others have lost jobs and are at risk of eviction or even experiencing homelessness. Some have lost social connectiveness leading to mental health distress.

At this, the 1-year anniversary of the first case, Arizona continues to have the dubious distinction of experiencing the highest rate of community spread of the SARS CoV2 virus in the country for the last several weeks. This is the second time that Arizona has been on top in community spread. We were highest in the country and world in mid-July as well.

Arizona has recorded 14,972 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) data dashboard, about 11,528 of these deaths have been a direct result of a SARS CoV2 infection. This suggests that an additional 3,444 deaths during this period may be indirectly attributable to the pandemic.

Arizona’s poor performance relative to the rest of the nation has not been because of bad luck or fate as has been suggested by Governor Ducey and Director Christ. It is largely because of an inability to learn from policy successes and failures, bad decisions, misplaced priorities, and an inability to execute core responsibilities.

We put together a summary of 2020 from a public health policy perspective. Our 10-page report is a timeline of the key critical control points and policy decisions that led us to where we are today. Below is an outline of the events that we cover in our 2020 policy review:

  • The Start of the Pandemic in Arizona

  • A Successful Stay-At-Home Order

  • Stay-At-Home Order Ends With No Mitigation

  • AZ Authorizes Hospital Crisis Standards of Care

  • The “Pause” of Business Operations Begins

  • The “Pause” Ends Without Mitigation Enforcement

  • Predictive Modeling Team Asked to Stop Work

  • Testing Bottleneck Impairs the Response

  • Business and School Metrics Adopted

  • Virus Goes Exponential Again

  • Lack of Action Blamed on Lack of Safety Net

  • Business Operation Standards Scrapped by ADHS

  • Arizona’s Testing Debacle

  • Second Hospital Crisis Begins

  • Year-end All-Cause Mortality Report Presents Grim Picture

  • Vaccination Rollout

  • The Consequences of Missed Opportunities

Arizona’s experience has been tragic. Everyone lost was a mother, a father, a sister or brother, or son or daughter. They had kids. They left loved ones behind.

Will Humble, MPH

Executive Director,

Arizona Public Health Association