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University of Arizona doctor: People not wearing masks is a factor in state’s spike in coronavirus cases

University of Arizona’s Dr. Farshad Marvasti told CNBC on Thursday that wearing a face mask “is part of our civic duty” to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 

One reason for Arizona’s recent rise in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations is that many people in the state are not wearing masks, Marvasti said on “Power Lunch.” 

“Most folks have been out and about in closed spaces, including nightclubs, bars, malls, restaurants, without any mask wearing, and I think that’s a big contributor to what’s going on,” Marvasti said. “This idea that we can just kind of go back to normal prematurely has been a big issue.” 

Daily cases in Arizona have been rising in the last two weeks at a pace that exceeds increased testing capacity, Marvasti said. On Wednesday, it reported 1,296 new cases of Covid-19, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Its largest daily case increase came on June 4, when 1,663 new infections were reported. 

The percent of positive test results has risen from about 5% more than a month ago to between 11% and 13% in the last week, “depending on which one of the models you’re looking at,” said Mavasti, director of public health, prevention and health promotion at the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine-Phoenix.  

Marvasti also pointed to rising hospitalization rates. Wednesday was the state’s 10th straight day with more than 1,000 people hospitalized with Covid-19, the Arizona Republic reported

Banner Health, the state’s largest health-care system, told CNBC on Monday that its number of Covid-19 patients on ventilators has quadrupled since May 15. 

“All of these trends kind of come together to point to it being more than just testing and really because of extensive community spread,” Marvasti said. 

There are concerns about intensifying Covid-19 outbreaks in other states, too, such as Texas and Florida

Decision to reopen economy 

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s stay-at-home order went into effect March 31 and expired May 15, after a roughly two-week extension. Nonessential businesses were able to reopen earlier in the month, provided they could follow certain social-distancing guidelines. Dine-in service at restaurants resumed May 11. 

Marvasti said Arizona did not necessarily reopen its economy too soon, arguing that its lockdown was effective in containing the virus. For example, there were 351 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 on the day Arizona’s stay-at-home order lapsed. 

“It’s not a question of whether we should have reopened when we did or not. It’s how we did in terms of the behavior of individuals,” Marvasti said. 

He said that wearing a face covering was beneficial for both the person wearing it and those around them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing a face covering in public. 

Marvasti said he did not believe Arizona would need to implement another lockdown if cases continue to rise but suggested that how the economy remains open may have to change, such as which businesses can operate. 

“The cost of staying open is for us to have to have more restrictions, and one of those restrictions that I think is going to be critical is mandatory masks by all employees,” he said. “And then really making it a very strong recommendation, if not a requirement, for folks going into closed settings such as restaurants and other venues like that to wear a mask.” 

Marvasti said another potential factor for Arizona’s growing outbreak is the weather, with the temperature consistently exceeding 100 degrees in recent days. The heat makes it so people “pretty much go from one inside air conditioned space to another,” he said. 

“That’s how we survive here in the desert during the summer months,” he said. “You combine people going into closed spaces more and the fact that nobody’s wearing a mask and then you get the numbers we see right now.” 

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