Coronavirus, the US and Arizona: The land of the free where the virus can thrive

On the sun-baked concrete of a parking-lot in the suburbs of Phoenix, nursing staff carry out a drive-thru swab testing operation.  

Arizona is a state which is recording record numbers of infections, so there’s a long line of cars.But the testing is not part of some federal effort to get a handle on the scale of the coronavirus resurgence.  

It’s really just an act borne of a keen sense of community spirit.  

A local, privately-run, medical centre managed to get hold of some swab-kits, and the doctors decided to do what they could to take on this fresh outbreak.

They recruited volunteers to direct traffic and collect the data, but they quickly ran out of tests in a day.   The health professionals here feel let down by a government which they don’t think ever got serious about tackling the pandemic.

And in a city which has no public health department, their concerns are shared by the mayor of Phoenix.  

Kate Gallego speaks of how, in the absence of any federal assistance, she had to enlist the city’s librarians in the effort to limit the spread of the disease.  

She’s also critical of President Trump, who held a rally of 3,000 people in her city two weeks ago, at which there was no social distancing and very few face masks worn.   Arizona’s state government did order a lockdown, or a stay-at-home policy as it’s known here, but it was lifted completely in the middle of May.  

And soon after people returned to shops, bars and gyms, the number of Covid cases quickly climbed. Bars have now been told to close down once again.   

Hundreds of people line up in vehicles at sunrise Saturday, June 27, 2020, in Phoenix's western neighborhood of Maryvale. Credit: AP

But even as the disease makes a resurgence here, so does the argument that attempts to control its spread run contrary to the American Way.US public health officials are imploring Americans to wear face masks, and in downtown Phoenix, most people are following their advice.  

But as I drove out into the bone-dry cactus-strewn country west of the state capital, face coverings become harder to spot.  Here are towns which are heavily reliant on the tourist dollar, and it’s easy to find businesses which flouted the lockdown orders, and still ignore social-distancing guidelines.

People who strongly object when the government tells them what to wear, or how they should behave.

Frank Cleveland, a facilities operations manager at Life Time health club, wipes down a surface at the health club. Credit: AP

America’s constitution, and its Declaration of Independence, are often quoted. 

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," one bistro-owner told me, "involves some risk".  America has a president who has often appeared unconcerned by the threat of Covid-19, and states which have been left to decide for themselves how best to handle it.  

The land of the free has become a place where a virus can thrive.