Sen. Sinema: Science, Not Partisanship, Should Guide Arizona's COVID-19 Response

By Steve Goldstein
Published: Friday, May 22, 2020 - 1:11pm
Updated: Friday, May 22, 2020 - 3:07pm

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Kyrsten Sinema
Kaely Monahan/KJZZ
Kyrsten Sinema in KJZZ's studio in 2018.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Congressional Democrats approved another COVID-19 relief package last week, but it's not likely to go much further. The HEROES Act would allocate another $3 trillion in aid as Republicans call for a hold on any additional aid. I caught up with Arizona's Democratic U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema on the same day of a hearing held by the Senate Committee on Aging. And I started by asking her what needs to be done to address coronavirus cases in long-term care facilities.

KYRSTEN SINEMA: So we know that the testing overall in Arizona is woefully behind. We are consistently 50th or 51st in terms of per capita testing, and we're seeing the results of our laggard rate of testing in these high rates of infection and unfortunately high rates of mortality in these long-term care facilities and nursing homes.

GOLDSTEIN: Senator, last week, the House approved another relief package along party lines, to spend another about $3 trillion in relief. And we've already heard Republicans and the senators saying it's, it's D.O.A. — others are offering potential opportunities for a compromise. What do you see that needs to be prioritized? And how do you feel about the House package and what do you think the Senate can do with it?

SINEMA: As I've always said, anytime one chamber of Congress passes a bill that's completely partisan, it's not going to make it to the president's desk. And that's not a useful exercise. So it is now up to the Senate to start working on a bipartisan package, which is what I have consistently called for since the beginning of this crisis. And I've identified five major elements that need to be in the next package to help Arizona stay healthy and economically secure. First, we've got to expand testing and boost the domestic production of PPE, not only to protect our health care workers and first responders, but as we know, we need it even now for the reopening of business in our economy. We've got to strengthen the paycheck protection program, which supports small businesses, and we have to boost unemployment insurance and direct rebate payments for Arizona citizens who are suffering financially. We've also got to provide direct support for Arizona cities, towns, counties and tribal communities. This has been a real problem, as we've seen in Arizona. Most of the communities in Arizona haven't seen a single penny of that funding from the last bill yet. So the next bill needs to get those dollars directly out to those communities, so they can continue to pay their firefighters and police officers and public health officials. And finally, we need to invest in our schools and expand broadband service so that our kids are getting the education they need and our universities are getting the support they need to innovate and help us end this pandemic.

GOLDSTEIN: Senator, recent figures indicated — the survey that's done on a regular basis — indicated that you were the most bipartisan U.S. senator on the Democratic side. So I wonder when it comes to this and when it comes to trying to get support for some of the ideas you've just brought up there, is the fact that you're known for being someone who works across the aisle going to make ideas like this more listenable to the other side? Are these things you think that there will be support for from Republicans?

SINEMA: Absolutely. The ideas that I've listed out aren't Republican or Democratic ideas. They're just responses to the needs that we're seeing from folks on the ground in Arizona. And I know that my colleagues, whether they're Republican or Democrat, regardless of what part of the country they serve in or where they represent, they're seeing these exact same needs surfacing in their own communities. So I know that we will find a bipartisan solution. I'm just hoping that we do it sooner rather than later as we see that Arizonans are suffering both financially at home, in their businesses and in our local communities.

GOLDSTEIN: Senator, recently you discussed — and you were very straightforward — your perspective on what the governor and some others had said about some research being done at ASU and U of A related to COVID-19 modeling. Can I get your overall perspective on how you think at the state level this is being handled in Arizona?

SINEMA: Well, I was glad to see that the governor and the Department of Health Services reversed course and engaged once again with the modeling projects being led by ASU and U of A. You know, these are some of the best researchers in the country, some of whom have worked at the federal level. But more importantly, they know the specifics of Arizona — our population, our climate, patterns of behavior. They're gonna give us the best data. I was glad to see that the Department of Health Services had asked them to help. And I was even more glad to see that they reversed their firing or whatever it was. I continue to rely on their report. And as we know, they just released updated information this week, and I and my team are watching it carefully. We are patterning our own behavior based on what we see from that modeling and are encouraging other Arizonans to be cautious as we begin to reopen.

GOLDSTEIN: And Senator, Governor Ducey let the stay-at-home order lapse for Arizona as there's this gradual transition. Who should be making these decisions from your perspective? We've heard obviously President Trump say certain things, we've heard from different governors. Should it vary from state to state, or how do you see that? Who is on the ground? We've also seen some disagreements between some mayors here in Arizona with what the governor has done. Is there an actual straight answer on that in terms of who should be decioding?

SINEMA: Yes, it's very clear. The CDC has issued guidelines through the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Their guidelines make very clear what benchmarks each community must meet at a 14-day period to begin reopening. And we should let the data and the science drive these decisions. You know, it's unfortunate that some people have chosen to make this a political matter, because the reality is that the life and death of Arizona's residents and the economic health of Arizona's residents must be determined by the science here, not by political partisanship.

GOLDSTEIN: It's been so difficult trying to figure out what the balance point there is between lives and the economy, which somehow sounds absurd when we put it in those terms. But based on how much the economy has been hurt, do you think there is a point of balance to be found or are we sort of learning more day to day?

SINEMA: Well, this virus is new, and there's so much about it we don't know. And this is what our CDC doctors, this is what Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx, tell us every day — there's so much we don't know. As we begin to reopen in Arizona, the CDC still offers this guidance to folks that in order to avoid getting the virus and potentially passing it on to loved ones, we should continue to follow guidelines of social distancing. Wear a mask when we go outdoors. Stay six feet away from each other. Avoid gatherings of more than 10 people. This is the kind of activity that is difficult to adjust to but is important not just to keep our hospital system from being overloaded, but also to keep ourselves and our neighbors and our community healthy. So as we move through this crisis — and we will continue to face this crisis until a vaccine is developed and widely distributed and widely available. And I think that's how we seek to find this balance between reopening and and ensuring that we're protecting our public health. We can do it if we're safe and smart about it. And that's my continuing advice to Arizonans, is to make smart and safe decisions for you, your family and for your community.

GOLDSTEIN: So folks are tired, they're cabin fever, etc. Do we have the moment here to grab, or are people not quite ready for that yet?

SINEMA: Well, the reality is we're in this for the long haul. This is going to be a tough road for us as Americans and as a global community until we have a vaccine. But I have to say that I'm proud of what I saw Arizonans do in March when it was time to close down and stay home, Arizonans did that. And that's how we flattened the curve. And while many of us have cabin fever and want to go back to our old way of life, it's also important for us to remember how important we want to protect ourselves, our children, our parents and our grandparents. This disease can affect all of us. And so while we certainly have cabin fever, cabin fever is a better thing to have than the coronavirus.

GOLDSTEIN: U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, thank you as always. And be well.

SINEMA: Thanks. Have a great day.

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