Opinion: Our failure to respond to COVID-19 showed the importance of gubernatorial politics

Gov. Doug Ducey's failure to properly respond to the COVID-19 pandemic was far more impactful for Arizonans than those of former President Trump

Arizona's COVID-19 numbers are currently among the worst in the world. Our hospitals are near capacity, and although vaccine distribution has begun across the state, it comes too late for the over 12,000 Arizonans who have already died from the virus.

The U.S. has struggled more than almost any other nation to properly control the virus, but Arizona in particular has been devastated by COVID-19 in a manner unlike any other state in the nation.

While former President Donald Trump failed to properly respond to the pandemic by actively downplaying the importance of mask-wearing, rejecting calls for shutdowns and dismissing the advice of his own public health officials, the blame for Arizona's atrocious COVID-19 response falls squarely on Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.

Public health policy and initiatives are largely undertaken by the governments of individual states, and while states rely on significant federal funding, most of the responsibility for implementing these measures remains in the hands of the governors.

"State leadership is far more important than federal leadership; there were all kinds of mistakes made by President Trump, but the outcome you get is far more dependent on the decisions the governor makes," said Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association.

Despite high mortality rates, hospital overcrowding, and high rates of public transmission, Ducey stood by while thousands of Arizonans died and many more were hospitalized.

When public health experts recommended shutdowns and mask ordinances, Ducey implemented a stay at home order that he promptly removed and "moved us out of the order into a free-for-all," Humble said.

"He bombed it after that, totally tanked it ever since, no enforcement of the mitigation measures … he ignored the information, the data, and didn't do anything," Humble said. "Overall, he failed the course miserably."

In defiance of consensus from public health experts, Ducey refused to mandate masks and was inconsistent in his policies about bars and restaurants. He also prevented local officials from pursuing stricter measures to protect Arizonans.

"I'm no fan of President Trump, but it's a cop out to blame him when the decisions made in Arizona were the ones that drove us to where we are today — off a cliff," Humble said. "Ducey may have done the worst in the entire country."

Despite overwhelming evidence of public health risks, Ducey argued that shutting down bars and restaurants would severely damage Arizona's economy. 

"Balancing the economic impact and the health impact, there's a price to pay, but one might argue that if we had been more heavy-handed, our economy would be doing better right now," said State Rep. Randall Friese, a trauma surgeon representing Arizona's 9th Legislative District.

While the Arizona Legislature is responsible for funding public health, the immediate response in an emergency is under the purview of the governor.

"The Legislature will not have the temperament to be able to do that in a quick way," Friese said.

Although many Republicans were not in favor of shutdowns or government-mandated mask ordinances, the governor should have taken the initiative to do what was right.

“(That) is what is called leadership, and as (John F. Kennedy) called it, a profile in courage, when you go against your base because they don't understand, and you do. He has not demonstrated or profiled courage in this way," Friese said.

The governor surrounded himself with experts who gave him constant advice to help manage the pandemic, and Ducey chose to actively ignore that advice.

Arizonans must expect better from a leader.

"I used to think it was incompetence, but I've become convinced that he just has no empathy," Humble said.

Arizonans must become involved in the future, to save ourselves from blatant ineptitude and malice.

"The difference between the federal and state and local governments, is that the issues on the (state and local) agendas are more important," Friese said.

Our time as a state to confront this issue is dwindling, but we will face many new challenges in the future — and we, as Arizonans, must choose someone to lead. We must choose someone who profiles courage, who listens to the experts, and who is capable of making hard decisions.

This time, more than 12,000 Arizonans paid the price for the governor's inadequacy.

How many more need to suffer before we learn from our mistake?


Reach the columnist at tkgerald@asu.edu or follow @TKGeraldMusic on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors. 

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