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Could Memorial Day Travel Lead To Spike In Arizona Coronavirus Cases?

Arizonans hit the road en masse this Memorial Day weekend. Interstate 17 was packed May 25 as travelers tried to get back to the Phoenix area.

Video of Old Town Scottsdale’s bars and restaurants showed people packed in and having fun. Outdoors, state parks were often crowded as people fled the Valley for cooler weather and outdoor fun.

But could all of that recreating — and gathering — lead to another spike in COVID-19 cases here?

Trace Ward is the director of the Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau. With some major attractions, like the Lowell Observatory closed, he says Flagstaff wasn’t as busy as it could have been. Still, golf courses and restaurants were packed, and some hotels were even sold out.

Ward says the city has emphasized safety — but the rest is up to the visitors.

“Some folks were wearing masks and distancing, and some folks weren’t. So, there was a mixed bag," Ward said. "We’ve been messaging heavily to stay, play and mask and distance responsibly.”

Arizona’s state parks also saw a surge in visitors. Michelle Thompson is the chief of communications with the Arizona State Parks and Trails Department.

“We’ve been open through the pandemic and throughout the stay-home order so we have seen higher than usual visitation at all of our parks throughout this time," Thompson said. "But with the stay-at-home order lifted and the really nice weather this weekend, we did see a lot of extra people coming out to the parks just to get outdoors and enjoy themselves over the three-day weekend.”

Whether Arizonans did enough to keep the virus at bay won’t be immediately apparent. But former state health director Will Humble is certain there will be some effect.

“Events like this Memorial Day weekend, things that we’ve seen in clubs and even outdoor events, et cetera, those are for sure going to increase the spread of the virus," Humble said. "We don’t know the extent of that, and we have to wait for an incubation period or two before we’ll really know what the real-life impact of that has been.”

Humble says it will take time to fully understand the consequences, not just of recent large gatherings but also of a possible seasonal effect. He expects more will become clear in early June.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.