White House report names state one of 18 COVID-19 ‘red zones’

Arizona is one of 18 states in the coronavirus “red zone” that should take stricter action to curb the rapid spread of COVID-19, according to an internal White House report unveiled Thursday.

The document, first reported by the Washington-based nonprofit Center for Public Integrity, categorizes states as being in the red zone if they exceeded 100 new cases per 100,000 residents last week and had more than 10% positive tests for the virus. Arizona topped both categories, with 349 new cases per 100,000 residents and a 20% positive test rate, according to the document.

The report came the same day that Gov. Doug Ducey said the state’s COVID-19 numbers were headed in the right direction, even as he warned state residents that the virus is here to stay and urged people to wear masks, socially distance and take other measures to curb its spread.

The report also came one day before Arizona recorded 91 new deaths, to top 2,500 for the first time, and added 3,910 new cases.

Calls seeking comment from Ducey’s office and the Arizona Department of Health Services seeking comment on the White House report were not immediately returned Friday.

But the executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association said it is important that people see the numbers in the report. Will Humble said that the percentage of positive tests, in particular, gives a clearer picture of the situation.

“I think that’s a really important metric because so often when people go to the dashboard, they look at the number of new cases per day but in large part that depends on the number of samples that were returned from the lab that day,” Humble said. “The percent positive gives you a much clearer picture of what the level of community spread is relative to the amount of testing that is available in the community.”

Arizona was one of 18 states in the “red zone” for new cases, along with Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

Arizona and 10 other states – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas and Washington – were in the red zone for positive test results.

Twelve of Arizona’s 15 counties were also in the red zone in the White House report, with only Apache, Gila and Yavapai counties in the yellow zone.

The document recommends that red zone jurisdictions take steps that include mandating masks in public, closing bars and gyms, limiting restaurants to 25% of dine-in capacity and encouraging people who participate in large gatherings to get tested, among other measures.

Ducey last week cut restaurants back to 50% capacity, but he has resisted calls to impose a statewide requirement for masks, which are being required by many local governments in the state.

“The governors and the health directors have a goal of having the ability to test 35,000 samples a day by the end of July, which is now just two weeks away,” Humble said. “So in order for that to happen they are going to need a lot more analytic capacity as well as better supply chain for the tests.”

As of Friday, July 17, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 138,523 cases of COVID-19 and 2,583 deaths in the state. It said 969,837 tests for COVID-19 have been completed in public and private labs in Arizona, and 12.2% of tests have come back positive for the virus that causes the disease.