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Scottsdale doctor creates petition for state lockdown, while other doctors speak of rollback restrictions

Doctors say it's going to get worse in Arizona before it gets better by looking at other countries. But, public health is more than just COVID-19.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Covid-19 is all Dr. Julie Ann Heathcott can think about.

"It’s not tangible," she says in a FaceTime interview Wednesday. "You can’t know exactly what it’s doing. It creeps up on you and it is going to explode."

Her women's care practice in Scottsdale is already rationing supplies after cutting down on non-essential appointments.  She's disheartened to see some others aren't doing their part.

"If people do not do social distancing, it is so scary how many lives will be lost," Dr. Heathcott said. "Simply, because somebody cannot stay home. To me, I think it's selfish."

Frustrated and worried, she started a petition, urging Governor Dough Ducey to put the state on lockdown, ordering people to shelter in place.  It's something cities and states have adopted across the country, including neighboring California.  Thousands have signed her petition in just a few days.

"The economic impact is going to be worse the longer it takes to do this," she says. "The sooner we act, the better off we will be."

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But in a Phoenix City Council meeting Monday, Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, Maricopa County's top infectious disease specialist, took a different tone.

"What we don't want is for people to sit in their home for months and months and months," she said.

She said she understands measures the states and cities are taking, but doesn’t agree with closing down bars, restaurants, and even schools.

"The literature is very clear that canceling doesn’t have any impact on the curve or on spreading of disease," she says of closing schools. "We understand why the Governor elected to do this, just to create some uniformity across the state. But it doesn’t actually have support in the literature as far as affecting the outbreak."

Dr. Sunenshine is not downplaying the disease, but saying the most extreme precautions like sheltering at home, should be for those who are most vulnerable.

"You can’t prevent everyone from socializing because socializing is absolutely a fundamental human need," she says.  "We’ve got to balance the risks and the benefits."

She adds that what other countries and states have opted to do, might not be the best fit for Arizona.

"Try to focus on what people are telling us from this area, rather than what people are doing in other states and at the federal level because we know best what our current situation is here," she explains.

On Wednesday, Dr. Cara Christ said the state will be seeing an increase in Covid-19 cases and that more hospital beds and protective gear will be something we'll need going forward.

But her predecessor says Dr. Sunenshine's perspective should also be taken into consideration.

"I think Dr. Sunenshine is saying things that a lot of people are thinking," says Dr. Will Humble, former director of the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Dr. Humble says public health should be about more than just COVID-19.

"When people who are living paycheck to paycheck lose that source of revenue and income, it had profound impacts on public health," he explains.

He says the economic burdens we're already seeing with many businesses forced to close can prove to be far worse and last longer than the virus itself.

"Start thinking about when it’s the right time to start backing off of some of these interventions," he says.  "Even if it may result in some more cases in the healthcare system.  The trade-off? The rest of the impact on public health outweighs the risk of some extra cases."

As for when leaders should roll back on restrictions? He says it's hard to tell because we're getting new data daily.  For example, he says that testing experimental medicine to treat COVID-19 is underway.  If healthcare workers find this to be a viable treatment option going forward, that could change the trajectory of how many beds and ventilators will be needed down the road.  But right now, it's too soon to tell.

"There’s no way to say this is how long it’s going to take but there is a way to say these are the kinds of things to be looking at as you make those decisions," he says.

As for Dr. Heathcott, she says the focus needs to be on the present, not the future, if we want to prevent people from dying.

"You can’t ignore it," she says.  "You have to let your brain understand that this is something real and this is something scary and it’s coming."

She plans to turn her petition over to Governor Ducey's Office, with the hopes he'll take more action.

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