| Arizona Republic
All Arizona cities should follow the lead of Phoenix and cancel athletic tournaments because of the COVID-19 situation, a clinical leader at Arizona’s largest health system says.
Dr. Marjorie Bessel, chief clinical officer for Banner Health, says she’d like to see other Arizona jurisdictions follow the city of Phoenix by pausing all sports tournaments until community spread of the coronavirus decreases significantly.
“They need to be paused until the uncontrolled spread that we are experiencing in our communities and in the state of Arizona gets to a different level,” she said.
‘A really terrible surge’
Banner Health is Arizona’s largest health care system and its forecasting shows a crisis in the coming weeks, where patient needs because of a surge of COVID-19 are expected to severely strain available resources.
The hospital system already is having two patients share rooms in several of its ICUs, which is not its normal protocol. Bessel says patient occupancy in January could reach 150% of Banner’s licensed bed capacity.
“One of the messages I have is that we’re on the cusp of a really terrible surge. It’s going to be the worst surge, I believe, of the entire pandemic,” she said. “We need to make these good public health decisions where we have these opportunities to make public health decisions like the Phoenix council did.”
The Phoenix City Council voted 7-2 Wednesday to prohibit tournaments at city-owned sports complexes until community spread falls from the “high” category to the “low” and “moderate” risk categories under the Maricopa County Department of Public Health guidelines.
“There’s a lot of science behind trying to explain to individuals who are making decisions on that, to help them really understand what the impact is of gatherings,” said Bessel, who provided testimony urging the Phoenix City Council to cancel sporting events in order to help prevent the state’s hospital system from being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.
“It’s not just the kids playing who may do a good job of masking. But the tournaments that are bringing groupings of individuals from different geographical areas together, is what is a risk,” she said.
‘Life is not going to be like this forever’
There is “light at the end of the tunnel” with the promises of COVID-19 vaccines, and that is different from the summer when there was no vaccine in sight, Bessel emphasized.
“Life is not going to be like this forever,” Bessel said. “In the second half of 2021, life is going to be very different than it is right now. We all have to make sacrifices right now.”
Right now, people gathering outside of their homes in an area like Arizona where COVID-19 transmission is high, with some coming from out-of-state, is just adding risk upon risk, Bessel said.
Phoenix will immediately cancel the tournaments scheduled at its facilities for this month and January, according to Mayor Kate Gallego’s office.
“I do want to say a thank you to the mayor as well as to the council for taking an evidence-based approach to what needs to be done for mitigation,” Bessel said.
“Given our current uncontrollable spread, mitigation needed to occur. I feel that they made a good decision and I’m glad that they listened to myself and other health experts to let them know that we need mitigation right now.”
Arizona health leaders asked state for ban on sporting events
Bessel was one of eight health care leaders who signed a letter to Arizona Department of Health Services director Dr. Cara Christ on Tuesday asking for urgent mitigation measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, including a ban on indoor dining, a ban on sporting events and a statewide curfew. The letter asked for action within 72 hours.
“Mitigation is a multi-pronged approach. In the letter, you can see a number of different items that come from a fact-based assessment of what can work or what will work during a pandemic,” Bessel said.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey held a news briefing on Wednesday, but did not ban indoor dining, sporting events, or implement a statewide curfew.
The governor did put in place some other mitigation measures that include expanded health and safety requirements for public events approved by cities and counties, relaxed regulations on restaurants to encourage outdoor dining and more serious enforcement for businesses that repeatedly disregard COVID-19 guidelines.
“The steps that you are hearing today are the steps that we’re taking to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state of Arizona,” Ducey said during the briefing.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announces new rules on outdoor dining
Gov. Doug Ducey announces a new executive order helping restaurants extend their outdoor dining options. December 2, 2020
‘At this point it’s way too widespread’
Dr. Farshad Fani Marvasti, a public health expert, physician and associate professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine Phoenix, said he was “deeply disappointed” that Ducey did not adopt any of the measures that Bessel and the other health leaders wanted, including banning sporting events.
Marvasti said sporting events need to be banned statewide until the spread of COVID-19 is under control.
“At this point, it’s way too widespread not only in Arizona but also in neighboring states and nationwide. You are introducing elements where people are potentially bringing it with them or serving as a carrier even if they are asymptomatic,” he said. “What happens off the field is as important, if not more important with respect to people going to restaurants, bars or other social activities or gatherings during the time they are here in the state.”
Arizona reported more than 5,600 new COVID-19 cases and 64 new known deaths Friday, and the number of patients hospitalized for the disease continues to rise. As of Thursday, 91% of ICU beds statewide were in use.
Identified cases in Arizona were at 352,101 on Friday, and the total number of known deaths was 6,821.
“You have CMOs (chief medical officers) of our major hospital health care systems who are kind of by default non-partisan and very much try not to get into any kind of political discussions,” Marvasti said, referring to the letter sent by Bessel and other health care leaders.
“But they came out in favor of immediate restrictions. I think it’s an unprecedented sign of the times with respect to how bad things are and how much worse they can get when you see this group of leaders coming out and being very explicit about the need to make some changes.”
Republic reporter Jen Fifield contributed to this report
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