When a public health emergency was declared in Arizona on March 11, followed by school closures, teleworking, limited gatherings, business closures, elective surgery postponements, and, 20 days later, a stay at home order, Arizonans experienced a double-whammy. Both personal safety and economic security were under siege. Our daily lives changed tremendously nearly overnight.

Pam Kehaly is president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona (BCBSAZ), the state’s largest locally owned healthcare insurer.

The economic impacts of COVID-19 are real and devastating. On a macro level, Gross Domestic Product could plummet by trillions of dollars in the U.S., a decline that would take years to recover from. On a personal level, incomes declined or disappeared altogether, with parents finding themselves having to balance the income needs of their families with their new roles of stand-in educators and Zoom tech support.

The personal safety impact remains of great concern…lives are at stake here. By March 31, there were 24 COVID-19 deaths in Arizona. By May 15 when the stay at home order was lifted, deaths had grown to 651, and by June 17, the date counties, towns, and cities began to implement mask requirements, the death toll stood at 1,581. As of Nov. 3, the loss of 6,020 Arizonans to COVID-19 has devastated families across our state.

Arizonans have pulled together to protect themselves and each other. When mask requirements were implemented, infection and death rates began to decline. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 cases in Arizona have decreased 75% since mask-wearing and other prevention measures were put in place.   

No one wants to go backward on either front. Simple safety precautions will allow us to keep our economy open, minimize COVID-19 related deaths, and regain at least some sense of normalcy in our daily lives.

The science and the data are clear: wearing masks can save lives AND livelihoods. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation is projecting COVID-19 deaths in December will increase to 2,900 a day in the U.S  and 31 a day in Arizona. Yet, if virtually all Americans wore masks in public, the daily death toll in the U.S. would drop to 1,000 a day, and in Arizona to 15 or fewer a day, in that same time period.

As infection rates begin to soar again, and we all struggle with pandemic-fatigue, the inextricable link between saving lives and protecting livelihoods is front and center. Wearing masks is not just about personal safety—it’s about economic security. Let’s mask up for both.


Pam Kehaly is president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona and member of Greater Phoenix Leadership.