Pence arrives in Arizona as state hits new virus records

PHOENIX (AP) — A masked Vice President Mike Pence arrived in Arizona on Wednesday as the state broke its own records with skyrocketing coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

Gov. Doug Ducey, also wearing a mask, greeted Pence with an elbow bump at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. He also bumped elbows with others traveling with the vice president, including Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Rear Admiral John Polowczyk, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

The group then walked a short distance to a small airport building where Pence was scheduled to hear from Phoenix-area health officials.

The visit by Pence comes as Arizona hit new highs in newly reported COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, emergency room visits and deaths. State 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.

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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.

Pence has no public events on his schedule, which has him on the ground in Phoenix for only about 2 1/2 hours before he returns to Washington.

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.

In a bid to curb the virus’ spread, Ducey ordered gyms and movie theaters to close for 30 days. He also postponed the start of school until mid-August.

River tubing businesses have also closed after images over the weekend showed large numbers of tubers on the Salt River without masks. On Wednesday, regulators suspended the liquor licenses for a café and a rooftop beach club in Phoenix that disobeyed 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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