COVID-19 is raging once again. Anybody seen Gov. Doug Ducey?

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  • Doug Ducey
    American businessman and politician
Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during a Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Ceremony at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza in Phoenix on Dec. 7, 2021.
Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during a Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Ceremony at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza in Phoenix on Dec. 7, 2021.

"If our continued forecast holds true, we will be in a position where we will be unable to meet the care needs of all of Arizonans."

So came Tuesday’s warning from Dr. Marjorie Bessel, the chief clinical officer for Banner, Arizona’s largest hospital system.

Two years ago, such a dire prediction would have been stunning. The thought that we could be turned away from a hospital, refused help when we need it?

These days, the prospect is met with a collective shrug.

Meanwhile, Gov. Doug Ducey pops down to the border every couple of weeks to remind us of the shortcomings of President Joe Biden.

“It’s clear the Biden administration has created a December Disaster at our border,” Ducey said last week, during a press conference at the border in Yuma. “As a result of piecemeal policy and a lack of federal involvement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has been inundated. We simply cannot stand by and watch this catastrophe unfold.”

Unless, that is, the December Disaster comes as a result of Ducey’s own lack of involvement.

COVID-19 is once again surging through the state.

Inpatient volumes at hospitals are now at their highest levels since the start of the pandemic, thanks in large part to unvaccinated Arizonans — with the worst, yet to come after the holidays.

But the governor who “simply cannot stand by and watch” as immigrants show up at the border in search of asylum, is missing in action as Arizonans sicken and continue to die.

One hundred and forty three more dead on Thursday, joining the more than 23,000 already gone since the start of the pandemic.

There’s not much now that Ducey can do to stop what is to come over the next month or so.

“He’s driven the truck into the ditch,” Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, told me on Wednesday. “The opportunity to avoid this was many months ago, when he was using that public health emergency (power) to undermine the response.”

When he handed out COVID-relief funds to schools that refused to mandate masks. And when he signed an executive order to try to block Tucson from requiring that its employees get vaccinated.

When he tried to ban community colleges and the state’s three universities from requiring vaccines, testing or masks.

And just on Wednesday — even as hospitals were struggling — when he quietly renewed a previous executive order baring cities, counties and the state from requiring that anyone get a vaccine. Tucked it right into an executive order entitled "Enhanced Surveillance Advisory, Monitoring and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19."

Folks, you just can't make this stuff up.

The governor says he supports both masks and vaccines. He just doesn't support mask and vaccine mandates.

It’s a pity, really, that Ducey couldn't bring himself to be more like his predecessor, Jan Brewer.

In 2010, Arizona was in a bad way. The Great Recession was hanging on and the state was looking devastating budget cuts to schools, to public safety, to health and social programs that are a lifeline for vulnerable Arizonans.

Gov. Brewer, meanwhile, was just months away from facing voters in the Republican primary.

Still, she did that which was politically unpopular and absolutely necessary. She proposed and pushed through a temporary sales tax increase, prevailing over those in her own party who break out in hives at the mention of the T word.

And she did it, knowing it was the right thing for the state even if it cost her the election.

Ducey, meanwhile, has demonstrated the spine of a wet noodle.

Certainly, the things he could have done to avoid our present circumstances would have been wildly unpopular, especially within his own party. But public health officials say they would have been effective and could be still, though not in time to prevent what is to come over the next month.

Humble says Ducey should require that state and university employees get vaccinated, impose a statewide indoor mask mandate for public places and require proof of vaccination to go to bars, restaurants and nightclubs.

He won't do any of that, of course, but you'd think he could at least lead a public service campaign to get people vaccinated. The Arizona Republic's Stephanie Innes reports deaths associated with COVID are up 24% this year over last year. This, despite the availability of a vaccine.

“Real leaders do things that are necessary that they also know are unpopular,” said Humble, who served as state health director under Brewer. “That’s what statesmanship includes, doing things that you know are right, that are difficult and that will hurt you politically.”

But alas, there was (and is) no upside in any of that for Ducey.

Well, except for the fact that Arizona likely would no longer be sporting one of the highest COVID seven-day death rates in the nation.

And we would no longer need to wonder whether we'd be turned away by a hospital, should we need help.

As of Monday, just 5%, or 91 of Arizona's staffed intensive care unit beds were available.

Team Ducey seems appropriately horrified and says the governor on Tuesday sent $35 million in federal COVID-relief funding to help hospitals bolster their staffing.

"It's certainly heartbreaking," Ducey spokesman, C.J. Karamargin, told 12News. "After two years of this to have another spike like this, it's another gut punch to everybody."

If only we had a governor who would punch back.

Reach Roberts at laurie.roberts@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LaurieRoberts.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: COVID-19 is raging once again. Anybody seen Gov. Doug Ducey?

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