The message to residents, she said, was that this pause represents “a yellow light.” “This means caution. Proceed carefully,” she said.
Brown said the new cases were not coming from business sectors that had recently reopened, such as restaurants, hair salons, and gyms. Nor was there an obvious connection to the protests against racism and police brutality that took place in late May and early June. (In one striking demonstration, thousands of closely packed protesters laid down on Portland’s Burnside Bridge for nearly nine minutes to mark the police killing of George Floyd.) “Some of it we just don’t know,” Brown said.
I asked Brown if she thought Oregonians would stomach another shutdown of the state’s economy, if it came to that. “Yes, I do,” she replied. “That is obviously a situation of last resort. But I believe that folks are willing to stay home to save lives, even at this point in time.”
In Arizona and Texas, the reopenings are so far along, and the cultural “return to normal” is so deeply ingrained, that even epidemiologists there are reluctant to broach the possibility of another lockdown. Ducey “has basically taken it off the table as an option, and I think it at least needs to be put back on the table,” Kristen Pogreba-Brown, an epidemiologist at the University of Arizona’s College of Public Health, told me. She said that “at a minimum,” Arizona should have a mandatory mask order. “From a purely empirical public-health perspective,” Pogreba-Brown said, “given that our cases are far higher than they were when we actually did have a stay-at-home order, you should probably be looking at shutting things back down. But from a political and a pragmatic point of view, I also just want to do what we can actually accomplish.”
Read: Their states are in crisis. They’re declaring victory anyway.
Governors such as Ducey and Abbott seem to have a different attitude entirely.
Following the lead of President Donald Trump, the Arizona and Texas governors are treating mask wearing and social distancing as matters of personal responsibility, or even choices. The simple act of wearing a mask—or a “face diaper,” as some conservatives derisively call it—is a new front in the culture war. Mandates for businesses are out, and “guidelines” are in. In Arizona and Texas, the governmental efforts to fight the coronavirus are now focused entirely on preparing hospital systems to meet an inevitable surge. Containment may have been a goal in the spring, but not anymore.
“We are not going to be able to stop the spread,” Cara Christ, Arizona’s public-health director, said last week, “so we can’t stop living as well.”
That quote alarmed local officials and epidemiologists alike. “It came off as a little callous,” Pogreba-Brown said. But it appeared to convey the sentiments not only of Ducey and his top advisers, but of Arizonans more generally, who have flocked to bars and restaurants and crowded into nightclubs as the state has reopened over the past month. Because Arizona and Texas did not experience initial outbreaks nearly as severe as those in the Northeast earlier this year, officials suspect that people there had less trepidation about returning to crowded spaces once they reopened—and were less inclined to wear a mask. “People assumed that since things were open, they could just get back to life as normal, and I think we’re seeing the consequences of that,” Pogreba-Brown said.