As the state falters on handling of Coronavirus, Sen. McSally continues to back Leader McConnell’s plan to let employment benefits expire, repeal health care
As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout Arizona, some politicians have had to readjust their campaigning to cut back on large gatherings — but others are continuing on the campaign trail despite the risk to public health.
A Republican sheriff in Arizona announced Wednesday he tested positive for COVID-19 after likely coming into contact with an infected person at his campaign event over the weekend.
Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb said on Facebook he held a campaign event Saturday and then was tested Tuesday when he was asked to visit President Donald Trump at the White House.
“Unfortunately, as a law enforcement official and elected leader, we do not have the luxury of staying home. This line of work is inherently dangerous, and that is a risk we take when we sign up for the job,” Lamb said, despite having the option to stick to virtual campaign events.
Lamb notably told the public he would refuse to enforce Gov. Doug Ducey’s stay-at-home order when it was implemented in late March.
Since Ducey allowed that order to expire May 15, Arizona has been seeing record-high numbers of new cases and hospitalizations.
The state health department reported more than 2,500 new cases Thursday, the most ever in a single day.
One Candidate In Person, The Other Online
When it comes to the Senate race, opinions on physically returning to the campaign trail differ.
Republican Sen. Martha McSally held a campaign event in Scottsdale last weekend when she signed copies of her new memoir and offered tacos and “Martha-ritas.”
It was her first time meeting voters in person since pausing physical campaign events in mid-March. Organizers told The Arizona Republic they did offer face masks and hand sanitizer at the event, as well as markings helping attendees stay six feet apart.
However, McSally’s opponent, Democrat Mark Kelly, has yet to return to in-person campaign events due to safety concerns. His spokesman said Kelly will continue to hold virtual events for the time being.
Republicans in local races have steadily been trickling back to physical events.
The Cochise County GOP held a birthday party for Trump, where many candidates advertised their campaigns.
Brandon Martin, who is running for the House of Representatives in southern Arizona, posted photos showing the event was “standing room only,” with almost no one wearing masks.
Another Congressional candidate, Noah Eric Ruden, has in-person phone banking scheduled.
Democrats have seemingly so far chosen not to return to physical events.
“Any and all events for the foreseeable future will be held online via conference call/webinar format,” Edder Díaz-Martínez, communications director for the Maricopa County Democratic Party, told The Copper Courier.
Díaz-Martínez added that the party is disappointed with the state’s leadership as cases rise, and they are happy the GOP decided not to hold the Republican National Convention in the Phoenix area despite party members pushing for it.
Preparing for Mass Gathering Anyway
But although Arizona dodged the convention, the Trump campaign made his way to Arizona on Tuesday to hold mass gathering in Arizona.
After his lackluster rally in in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Trump visited Arizona: first to see the border wall in Yuma, then to speak to an audience of roughly 3,000 supporters in northern Phoenix. Despite health concerns, people had already begun lining up outside of the building Wednesday evening.
And if people get sick, the president is avoiding fault. Attendees are required to sign waivers agreeing not to sue him if they become infected with COVID-19.
Trump briefly brought up his record on health during Tuesday’s rally, inaccurately describing himself and McSally as defenders of coverage for pre-existing conditions.
“We are going to protect pre-existing conditions — and Martha McSally is going to protect pre-existing conditions, we know that,” Trump said.
Despite the president’s claim, McSally’s voting record does not portray her as a supporter of pre-existing coverage protections, While in Congress, McSally has voted multiple times to undermine or eliminate pre-existing condition coverage protections.
Trump’s Arizona rallies comes at a time when the state could see soon see a need for field hospitals, according to the state’s former health director.
While only 72% percent of the state’s ICU beds were in use the day the stay-at-home order ended, 83% were filled as of Tuesday.
The rally also comes at a time when Arizona faces staggering economic woes as a result of the pandemic.
Since mid-March, nearly 700,000 Arizonans have filed for unemployment while more than 400,000 have applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). On Thursday, the state Office of Economic Opportunity reported the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for May was 8.9%.
While Arizona normally offers up to $240 per week in unemployment benefits, much less than in other states, the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed in late March gives applicants a flat additional $600 per week. But as it stands, that extra assistance will run out at the end of July.
McSally, who initially voted against the extra $600, has said she is on the fence about extending the additional benefits past next month. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom McSally often sides with, has vowed to keep an extension out of the next relief bill although there is no end to the pandemic in sight.
Slowing the spread
As Arizona COVID-19 situation continues to worsen, local officials, healthcare professionals, and members of the public have been calling on Ducey to implement a statewide mask wearing mandate.
However, he decided on Wednesday to instead give local officials the power to pass rules requiring people to wear masks in public, with many mayors choosing to do so. So far, at least a dozen municipalities have declared plans to enact mask mandates.
This story originally appeared on Copper Courier. The Associated Press contributed to this report.