Phoenix Mayor On Arizona's Alarming Rise In COVID-19 Cases Since Reopening, Protests

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Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

Coronavirus cases in Arizona have nearly doubled since Memorial Day, pushing against the state’s hospital capacity and worrying experts.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey lifted the state’s stay-at-home order a month ago, citing declining cases and expanded testing capability. But since early May, CNBC reports that new daily coronavirus cases are up by 300%, calling into question whether the move was made too soon.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego says she is “very concerned” about the rising cases in Arizona. She says though most people in her state are remaining careful, she’s worried that younger populations aren’t taking the virus seriously.

“We do see very concerning situations where people just went back to normal,” she says. “Particularly among some of our younger people, we're not seeing masks, and our youngest residents are where we're seeing the fastest rate of increase.”

Those concerns are spurred in part by reports and videos that showed crowds of young people flock to bars over Memorial Day weekend with little regard for social distancing.

Gallego also expresses frustration with Gov. Ducey’s leadership in the fight against coronavirus. Ducey previously curtailed Arizona mayors’ ability to set stricter coronavirus restrictions on cities than those at the state level.

“If I had the opportunity to do so,” Gallego says, “I would closely follow the Centers for Disease Control guidelines, which would have us opening in stages and would not have allowed us to go straight to packed nightclubs with no masks.”

Interview Highlights

On new rising cases in Arizona

“I am very concerned about what's happening in Arizona right now. I live in Maricopa County, and in our community, 27% of the cases we've had the entire time we've been fighting COVID-19 have been in the last week. I am trying to send a message that we need to take this incredibly seriously and that we're not done fighting it yet. The governor has preempted mayors from doing business restrictions right now. But we're trying to do everything we can to keep our residents safe and put in place masking, try to provide essential services such as food to people at home. We do need to have additional protections. I'm very worried when I see full nightclubs. We know transmission can occur in that situation. And so I would like to see us do more to protect our community.

“I hope that people understand that with some very reasonable protection, such as wearing masks and washing hands and social distancing, that we can save lives and slow the spread.”

On Gov. Ducey’s leadership

“The protections we originally put in place started with mayors doing executive orders, and for example, moving restaurants to take out to try to push social distancing. We saw the curve decline and cases spread less quickly as a result of that. Then the governor put in place executive orders that said mayors could not take those types of steps.”

“I hope that people understand that with some very reasonable protection, such as wearing masks and washing hands and social distancing, that we can save lives and slow the spread.”

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego

On police reform in Phoenix

“We have been working on this issue my entire time in public life. There's no issue that I've spent more time on than building trust between police and our community. During my 14 months as mayor, for the first time ever in our city, we passed a civilian oversight board and an Office of Accountability and Transparency. So we've been making very significant reforms. During my time as mayor, we've fully deployed body cameras to all of our officers who work with the community. We are trying to be responsive and build that trust, and we're committed to continuing a dialog. We want to be self-reflective and do better.”

On “defunding” the police

“Phoenix is literally the fastest growing city in the United States. I want to make sure that we have a safe place to call home for everyone. And I believe that a police department is an essential part of that. I do want to take a hard look at what services we ask our police officers to provide. I'm concerned that in Arizona we don't fund mental health adequately and then the police department becomes the service provider of last resort. We are not traditionally the branch of government that does mental health, but this year, we've begun embedding clinicians with our officers to try to make sure that there's appropriate options and that if a social worker or clinician can really help solve the problem, we have the opportunity to do so. So we are going to continue to look at the role of public safety and policing in our community.

“I want to modernize policing. I believe we still need a strong department as long as there is domestic violence and human trafficking and armed shootings in our community, we need police officers to respond.”

Francesca Paris produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku RayLynsey Jeffery adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on June 12, 2020.


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Peter O'Dowd Senior Editor, Here & Now
Peter O’Dowd has a hand in most parts of Here & Now — producing and overseeing segments, reporting stories and occasionally filling in as host. He came to Boston from KJZZ in Phoenix.



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