PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey received heaps of praise for his coronavirus response at the White House Wednesday. But back at home, the picture of whether the state is pulling out of the crisis was less clear.

One grim example of the seriousness of the crisis was playing out at the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office. On Monday, the number of bodies on site surpassed 85% of the facility's capacity. That triggered the use of the temporary morgue, which is a set of rented, portable coolers, stored in a county garage. Twenty-two bodies were transferred there.

Trump praises Ducey, as bodies accumulate in the county morgue

Gov. Doug Ducey met with President Donald Trump on Wednesday.

"These are decedents who are awaiting pick up from the funeral home system," said Robert Rowley, who county's emergency management director.

"We did see a significant increase in the number of deaths in June and July and we know that many of those are due directly to COVID-19," said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director for Disease Control at Maricopa County Health Department.

"The number of deaths is increased and we can anticipate that that increase will sustain itself for at least the next couple of weeks," said Sunenshine.

In Washington, President Trump and Dr. Deborah Birx, who is the coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, praised Ducey and his response to Arizona's spike in cases earlier in the summer.

"You've done a fantastic job. We are very proud of you," said Trump.

"Gov. Ducey worked with us and we demonstrated now that you can keep the state open and retail open if you do these five common sense practices," said Birx, referring to the guidelines Arizona has followed, which include wearing masks, avoiding large crowds and social distancing.

Birx said she is working with other states in the South and Midwest to implement the same practices, as those regions have seen increases in coronavirus cases.

But critics in the public health field have criticized Ducey. They argue that he made this health catastrophe worse, by reopening in the state in mid-May with few restrictions, then reacting slowly when the cases started to rise dramatically.

Ducey ended up closing bars and gyms, allowing cities and counties to enact mask ordinances and reducing large gatherings. For his part, as he was receiving accolades in the White House, the governor warned that Arizona was not out of the woods yet.

"No celebration. No victory lap. We're going to stay the course and stay vigilant and keep our guard up. We're going to keep pressing," said Ducey.

Morgan Loew's hard-hitting investigations can be seen weekdays on CBS 5 News at 6:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.
 
 

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