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Pence backs Arizona business closures in coronavirus hotspot

PHOENIX — Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday implored people in Arizona to wear masks and support business closures as the state reports record infections, deaths and emergency room visits.

Pence wore a mask when he descended the steps of Air Force Two in Phoenix and greeted Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey with an elbow bump.

Pence said the federal government is sending 500 health workers to Arizona, which officials say is seeing the highest rate of new cases in the nation.

Ducey previously ordered bars, gyms and movie theaters to close for 30 days and banned large gatherings, drawing sharp criticism from some Republicans who see it as an overreaction. Some gyms and their management have been sanctioned or criminally charged for openly defying the orders.

Pence cautioned that the more people do to stop the spread of the virus, “the quicker we can get Arizona’s economy growing, get our kids back to school.”

Pence also threw his support behind Ducey.

“President Trump and I fully support the responsible steps that he’s taken,” the vice president said.

Pence did not elaborate on what type of health care workers would be sent to Arizona but said they were requested by Ducey.

With beds quickly filling, Arizona’s hospitals are squeezing two beds into rooms intended for one patient and have been given authority to ration care if they can’t adequately treat all patients.

“Our objective would be that that would never happen in Arizona or anywhere else in the United States of America,” Pence said about the care of patients.

Pence met with Phoenix area health care workers and also held a private political meeting. He was in Phoenix for less than three hours and did not leave the airport property during that time.

There have been roughly 558 new cases reported per 100,000 people in Arizona over the past two weeks, ranking the state first in the country for new cases per capita, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Arizona health officials reported 4,878 new confirmed cases — a number comparable to recent daily case totals in larger states such as Florida and California, which have three to six times as many people as Arizona.

Other alarming new highs in Arizona included 2,876 hospitalizations and 1,289 ER visits for positive or suspected virus infections. The number of reported deaths in a day also hit a new record of 88, but that may include health officials reviewing death certificates for links to COVID-19.

The new data brings the total number of COVID-19 cases in Arizona to 84,092 and the total number of related deaths to 1,720.

The hastily arranged Phoenix trip is a replacement for canceled events that were supposed to happen on Tuesday. Pence had planned to address a “Faith in America” campaign event in Tucson and to meet with Ducey in Yuma.

Worldwide, the number of infections is thought to be far higher than reported numbers because many people haven’t been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.

On Wednesday, Arizona regulators suspended the liquor licenses for a cafĂ© and a rooftop beach club in Phoenix that disregarded Ducey’s order to shut down. Another chain of gyms also has defied the governor’s order, leading police to cite several of its locations for being open Tuesday.

The coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough for most people. But for some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. ____

Associated Press writers Jacques Billeaud and Terry Tang contributed to this report.

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