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Arizona Sheriff Who Refused to Enforce Lockdown Restrictions Has COVID-19

Arizona Sheriff Who Refused to Enforce Lockdown Restrictions Has COVID-19

RAY STERN | JUNE 17, 2020 | 5:00PM

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A Republican sheriff in Arizona who said he would not enforce the state’s emergency coronavirus orders has come down with COVID-19.

Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb announced on Facebook on Wednesday that he had tested positive, likely from attending a campaign event on Saturday. He says he found out when he was called on Tuesday to meet with President Trump at the White House and was screened for the virus.

“Unfortunately, as a law enforcement official and elected leader, we do not have the luxury of staying home,” Lamb wrote. “This line of work is inherently dangerous, and that is a risk we take when we sign up for the job. Today, that risk is the COVID-19 virus. On Saturday, I held a campaign event, where it is likely I came into contact with an infected individual.”

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Trump, meanwhile, is planning to come to Arizona on June 23 for a campaign rally.

Lamb, who was elected in 2016, told Phoenix New Times in late April that he had to keep the Constitution in mind when considering emergency public-health orders.

“In tough times, tough decisions have to be made,” he said. “I’m looking at two laws in each hand [and] going with the one that’s 200 years old rather than two days old.”

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Lamb said on Wednesday that he’ll be self-quarantining for at least the next 14 days and has alerted the Pinal County Public Health Department after testing positive, “and they are working to track all those I came in contact with following the Saturday event.”

Lamb did not immediately return a message left with his office on Wednesday; this story will be updated if he calls back.

Lamb was not the only Republican sheriff who said he would not enforce Governor Doug Ducey’s emergency orders in April. Mohave County Sheriff Douglas Schuster and Gila County Sheriff Adam Shepherd, like Lamb, said they would advise people of the recommendations, but would not arrest people or shut down a business for violations.

On Wednesday, citing the spike in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, Governor Doug Ducey said he would allow local jurisdictions to make their own mandatory health rules. Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He’s won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club’s Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.

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Few people enjoy wearing masks. Experts say to do it anyway.EXPANDFew people enjoy wearing masks. Experts say to do it anyway.“CDC” via Pexel

‘What If I Hate Masks?’: 20 Questions on COVID Coverings, Answered by ASU Experts

RAY STERN | JUNE 15, 2020 | 6:00AM

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Arizonans are a special breed. Our state is the final frontier of the Lower 48, and we tend to find it particularly detestable when told what to do by the government. That extends to wearing masks during a plague. Just because the rest of the world is wearing masks doesn’t mean Arizonans will. A troubling spike in COVID-19 infections here hasn’t seemed to sway many, either.

Lately, some local institutions have moved in the direction of encouraging masks. On Friday, Arizona State University President Michael Crow announced that the school would be requiring masks indoors on campus and outside where social distancing isn’t possible. And Maricopa County public health director Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine admitted this week that, though she hadn’t previously been wearing masks on a routine basis, her mind has been changed on the subject in light of new scientific evidence that shows masks prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Yet Arizonans aren’t clamoring for a mask mandate that would give police another reason to stop them, nor has Governor Doug Ducey given any indication he’ll order residents to wear masks.

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The known number of cases has gone up about 70 percent in Arizona since the first of June, from about 21,000 cases to more than 35,000, and the number of deaths due to COVID-19 has increased by more than 25 percent, to 1,186 as of Sunday morning. Would more mask-wearing really help?Steffan Eikenberry and Abba GumelSteffan Eikenberry and Abba GumelASU

Phoenix New Times turned to two experts from ASU’s School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences to answer questions Arizonans might have about masks and their wearing.

Foundation Professor Abba Gumel and Post Doctoral Scholar Steffen Eikenberry recently led a team of six other experts to analyze the effectiveness of masks, producing a study published in the latest issue of the scientific journal Infectious Disease Modelling. Titled “To mask or not to mask: Modeling the potential for face mask use by the general public to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic,” the study concludes that mask-wearing by the general public has “high value” in curbing disease.

Below are the questions and answers. Eikenberry’s answers are edited from an interview on Friday; Gumel’s full emailed responses are included.

1. Do masks actually work to slow disease transmission?

AG: Absolutely. This is evident from the very small number of COVID-19 cases in some Asian countries (per million people), such as China, Singapore and South Korea, where people are used to wearing face masks whenever necessary.

SE: The short answer is yes, almost certainly. There’s multiple lines of evidence to suggest they slow transmission… From our model, it’s better to have more people wear low-efficiency masks than less people wearing higher efficiency masks.

2. Could a lack of widespread mask-wearing in Arizona have helped cause the spike in cases this month?

AG: Yes. But the spike may also be due to other factors such as the increased COVID-19 testing done in Arizona and the increased community contacts (and not-strict observance of social-distancing) after the partial lifting of lockdown measures on May 15, 2020.

SE: Obviously it’s hard to say, exactly… I would strongly suspect that yes, that plays a role. If more people were wearing masks in public, then yes, that could have helped. [Eikenberry reiterated it’s just his opinion.]

3.  If I’m not infected but am wearing a mask while talking face-to-face with someone infected with COVID-19, do I get any benefit?

AG: Yes. This will prevent you from getting infected due to the casual droplet from the infected person and from touching your face.

SE: That’s one thing that irks me a little bit, this messaging that it’s almost entirely to prevent you from spreading it to other people. Evidence clearly supports the role of masks in also protecting the wearer from getting the disease… And you don’t know if you don’t have [the disease], really. So either way, you should wear one.

4. Do people touch their faces less while wearing masks?

AG: Yes. You will end up touching your face mask instead.

SE: Humans are basically like little rodents. We constantly touch our face… Once you have a mask on, you are very conscious of it. Anecdotally, it dramatically reduces how much you touch your face.

5. What if I really hate wearing a mask?

AG: Then try to maintain social/physical distance (of at least 6 feet from other humans in public) and only wear it if there are people not wearing a face mask within 6 feet.

SE: Uh, I mean, you gotta assess your values — what you think is important. If doctors can do it all day long, you can probably do it for a few minutes inside a store.

6. What if I feel wearing a mask is an infringement on my individual identity?

AG: Then, do not feel that way. Get used to it. You are helping to not only keep yourself healthy but also contribute in reducing community transmission. You may be saving lives!

SE: I kind of get that. I would say, in Arizona, you’re not mandated to wear masks. I can understand how you might bristle at these kinds of things. But reorient your thinking… If you accept the fact that [masks work], you should just do it for that reason, not because you are being told to do it. It’s a heartless conception of freedom: ‘You told me to do it, so I’m not going to do it, even though it has real consequences for people.’'What If I Hate Masks?': 20 Questions on COVID Coverings, Answered by ASU ExpertsEXPANDDavid Hudnall

7. Am I sending a political signal just by wearing a mask?

AG: Not at all. You are sending a signal of being responsible and a good and caring member of the community. COVID-19, like all other diseases, is no respecter of politics.

SE: No.

8. Will I look weak/stupid/ugly in a mask?

AG: No. It makes you appear to be responsible. Hence, respectful.

SE: I personally appreciate it when other people are wearing masks. They are being considerate of people around them, in my view. In terms of looking weak — does wearing a seat belt make you look weak? [Eikenberry agrees that it might be uncomfortable to be the only person in a store with a mask on, and recalls once how “people gave me a look.”] But whatever, you know, who cares? You’re never even going to remember this, and it sets a good example.

9. What should I do if someone who’s not wearing a mask suddenly gets up in my (masked) grill?

AG: If possible, politely move away or point to that person about the signs to maintain the social distance.

SE: I’d try to just diplomatically back up or something. Again, your face mask is certainly helping to protect you, but you should not want their droplets right in your face.

10. Should I ever admonish a store employee or fellow citizen, even gently, for not wearing a mask?

AG: Sorry that this would be a somewhat lengthy response. Ideally, everyone should be strongly encouraged to wear a face mask in public. Depending on how receptive they may be, one can attempt to suggest. I generally would not, unless I know them personally. There may be reasons why they are not wearing face masks, including health reasons (there are numerous legitimate health reasons that make it impossible for some people to wear a face mask) or that they have already acquired, and recovered from, the pandemic (and feel that they are immune from future infection).

SE: It’s a philosophical or social question as much as a scientific one. I don’t know. If you could do it with good humor, where people don’t automatically get defensive, maybe it’s reasonable. You can’t tell people you’re killing people. It’s human nature. They’ll get defensive.

11. Is it okay to leave my nose showing while wearing a mask?

AG: No. But it is OK if there is no one within 6 feet.

SE: No. Please cover your nose.

12. Should outdoor joggers and cyclists be wearing masks, too?

AG: I think it is OK [not to wear one in those circumstances] if one can maintain a distance from others at least 8 feet.

SE: [Not wearing is acceptable] as long as you’re by yourself, you’re outdoors, you’re not placing anyone or yourself at risk. In general, outdoors is always safer [except with a group or when near other people]. If I was going to be in a pack of people, like a pack of runners, I’d wear a mask.

13. Should I leave my mask on if eating indoors at a restaurant when not actively eating/drinking?

AG: Yes.

SE: That’s one of those ‘practical’ questions: How practical is it to take it on or off? Personally, I’m not eating inside at a restaurant… I would not recommend eating indoors.

14. Will leaving my mask in the sun in my car in Phoenix this summer kill any germs on it?

AG: I think so. I believe the number of germs (if any) will be so low it will not survive under the AZ sun for more than a few minutes since the virus is coated with an extremely thin fatty membrane that will start melting in temperature over 86 degrees Fahrenheit (see here).

SE: If you leave a mask in a hot car in Phoenix, there is some data to show [the heat kills germs.] I leave it in the car… it’s been baked at 130 degrees.

15. Should I open my door to people wearing masks?

AG: Yes, with the usual caution of course. Criminals wear different masks, which cover more than just nose and mouth.

SE: I mean, use your judgment. Maybe ask who it is first.

16. Does wearing sunglasses or eyeglasses with the mask provide extra benefit?

AG: I think so.

SE: It may help a small amount, but most of the benefit is going to be from the mask.

17. What are the best types of masks to wear for protection, if I can’t get N95s?

AG: In almost all practical situations, any multiple-layer face covering will be fine.

SE: If you’re doing a tightly fitted cloth mask, it could potentially be better than a surgical mask… Cotton and silk would be a quite effective mask.

19. I found some N95s in my shed — is it okay to wear them out, or am I hoarding supplies that hospitals need? Should I donate them to a hospital?

AG: These masks are rightly reserved for frontline healthcare workers. Members of the general public should use medical or even cloth masks instead (so that we do not create scarcity of these masks in the hospital system).

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SE: If they were unused, the hospital may take them. But if they’ve been open and used, I’d be shocked if they took them.

20. If N95s are the best and might prevent community spread more effectively, why can’t average consumers find them?

AG: You can find them. However, we stress that owing to the scarcity of these masks, we really must prioritize the healthcare workers.

SE: I’m wondering the same thing.Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He’s won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club’s Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.

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Friends and family rallied last Thursday outside of the hospital where Courtney Robertson's father is a patient.Friends and family rallied last Thursday outside of the hospital where Courtney Robertson’s father is a patient.Courtesy of Kirsty Hudson

Mesa Family of Stroke Victim Stages Protest to Blast Hospital Visitation Policy

ERASMUS BAXTER | JUNE 16, 2020 | 2:59PM

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After Lloyd Shull’s stroke, one of his daughters found him collapsed on a tile floor, struggling to form words. His wife performed chest compressions, and he was rushed to Banner Desert Medical Center, where he was hooked up to machines to feed him oxygen and nutrients.

That was almost three weeks ago. COVID-19 visitation restrictions at the hospital have since prevented the family from seeing him. While they understand the reasons for the restrictions, they say Shull’s wife of 29 years needs to be with him. Not for a visit, but to help provide the care he needs.

“If my dad was in there for a broken leg or gallbladder removal I wouldn’t be fighting as hard” to see him, said another daughter, Courtney Robertson. While she would love to see her father herself, her mother has the legal authority to make care decisions and should be given access, she said.

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The family decided to express its frustrations last week by staging two protests in front of Banner Desert Medical Center, which is located at 1400 South Dobson Road in Mesa.

Robertson estimated that the June 11 protest drew around 40 people. They mainly included members of Shull’s close-knit family, but also included a man seeking to visit his pregnant wife. Photos show them spread out along the sidewalk in front of the hospital holding hand-lettered signs, some wearing shirts reading “#SHULLSTRONG.”

The family’s struggle to get someone inside the hospital to support Lloyd Shull reflect a national problem with hospitals largely shutting down visitation to protect against COVID-19. Families and care providers for people with disabilities worry about patients who can’t necessarily advocate for themselves — a situation they say violates patients’ rights to equal care.

Lloyd Shull’s recovery seems to depend on his ability to have visitors. The stroke and hemorrhaging in his brain left his mental capacities impaired.

“He’s not there to voice what he’s feeling or what he needs,” Robertson said.

Robertson described her father as an active 52-year-old who lives in Apache Junction and owns a drywall contracting business, a man who’s strong and generous — the kind of guy who would give the shirt off his back to someone who needed it. But now, in his moment of need, he’s all alone.

The only exception came a week into his hospitalization, when officials at Banner Desert, expecting Shull to remain largely unresponsive, allowed his wife, Sheri, an end-of-life visit.

Miraculously, the presence of his wife seemed to make a difference, and Shull became much more responsive, squeezing his hand at her prompting, Robertson said. Since then, her father’s condition has improved slowly. While he’s been able to move out of intensive care and begin recovery, he’s often still confused and is missing memories, she said.

From the start, Shull’s family felt out of the loop. They tried to communicate with Lloyd and his doctors by leaving messages with busy nurses. They called multiple times a day. When her father was moved out of the ICU on June 5, Robertson said it took about seven hours for the hospital to find him a new feeding tube — a tube that was supposed to feed him hourly.Lloyd Shull poses with his grandson.Lloyd Shull poses with his grandson.Courtesy of Courtney Robertson

Call logs reviewed by Phoenix New Times show Shull’s family calling the hospital repeatedly. Robertson said her mother set an alarm to call every few hours that day, finally receiving word that her father’s feeding pump was hooked back up around 2:30 a.m.

Banner spokesperson Nancy Neff said the hospital reviews its visitor restrictions daily, and employees understand the importance of having a loved one present during a health event.

Banner began updating its policy last week and now allows a support person to accompany patients with disabilities inside of hospitals, when necessary.

“We understand that some of our patients may have loved ones or advocates helping to make health care decisions,” Neff wrote in an emailed statement. “In those circumstances, our team members continue to work closely with those individuals to ensure that the patient’s wishes are carried out. We also encourage and assist all patients to connect with their loved ones by phone or video chats, when possible.”

However, when Sheri, Shull’s wife, spoke with Desert Medical Center’s chief nursing officer on June 11, the officer refused to budge, and read the outdated visitation policy from the website verbatim, Robertson said.

Neff said she couldn’t comment on any specifics due to patient privacy, but that in general, hospital leadership will pass down information about changes as appropriate. She said that the hospital’s visitation information on its website had since been updated.

Robertson said in spite of their repeated calls, it wasn’t until her father’s third week of hospitalization that doctors started responding to their messages the same day instead of taking two to three days to respond, something she attributes to their advocacy. For weeks, attempts to talk or FaceTime with him depended on the availability of nurses to take a phone to him, and of iPads for video calling.

Despite Neff’s statements, Robertson said the family has not been told that a support person can visit her father.

Alison Barkoff, director of advocacy at the Center for Public Representation, a legal advocacy group for people with disabilities, said her organization has received a disproportionate number of calls about hospital visitation since the pandemic began.

“These people are not really serving in the role of a visitor,” she said. Instead, she said, they’re offering the crucial support some patients like Shull need to equally access medical care.

Her group was among several that filed a complaint last month with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ civil rights office alleging Connecticut and a hospital in its capital violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Affordable Care Act by limiting access to support personnel.

The complaint’s resolution, which involved Connecticut changing its policies to allow a designated support person for all people with disabilities in hospitals, has been hailed by advocates as setting a nationwide precedent that all hospital visitation policies must allow a support person for people with disabilities. Neff would not comment on whether Banner changed its policy in response to the Connecticut case.

The American Academy of Developmental Medicine & Dentistry issued a policy statement in April recommending that hospitals provide accommodations for people who need a support person, noting that less-than-optimal outcomes might otherwise occur.

Dr. Rick Rader, director of the Orange Grove Habilitation Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the academy’s vice president for policy and advocacy, said people with intellectual disabilities don’t do well in hospital environments.

“A lot of it has to do with just unsuccessful translation of the information,” he said.

Rader said that while COVID-19 visitation restrictions are well-intentioned, they don’t take the needs of people with disabilities into account — a systemic issue in medicine. Patients in conditions like Robertson’s father would absolutely qualify as someone needing assistance, he said.

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“How can somebody who’s confused reflect or make decisions about the care they want provided?” he asked.

Things can change in a heartbeat during a hospital stay, and with miscommunication between shifts as one of the largest sources of medical errors, someone familiar with the patient needs to be directly involved in care decisions, Rader said. Beyond the human aspect, the cost of potential medical claims means “[hospitals] can’t afford not to.”

In the meantime, Shull’s family is waiting to see him. They have another protest planned for the evening of June 17.

“We need him,” Robertson said. “He needs us.”Erasmus Baxter is a staff writer for Phoenix New Times.

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State public health director Dr. Cara Christ and Governor Doug Ducey arrived at the press conference wearing masks and used hand sanitizer before beginning.EXPANDState public health director Dr. Cara Christ and Governor Doug Ducey arrived at the press conference wearing masks and used hand sanitizer before beginning.Screenshot

Ducey Changes Course as COVID-19 Numbers Get Bad — Really Bad

JOSH KELETYERASMUS BAXTER | JUNE 17, 2020 | 5:40PM

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Across the board, Arizona’s COVID-19 numbers are trending in the wrong direction. Even Governor Doug Ducey has been forced to admit so.

At a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Ducey, who has in the past blamed increasing case numbers on increased testing, admitted his comments two weeks ago about a lack of a trend were no longer accurate.

“There is a trend,” Ducey said. “And the trend is headed in the wrong direction.”

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Ducey also admitted that while he hadn’t personally known anyone with COVID-19 for months, he now knows a number of people who were infected at grad parties.

On Wednesday, the state Department of Health Services reported 1,827 new cases, the second highest tally reported in a single day since Tuesday, when 2,392 cases were reported. (The current total number of confirmed cases in Arizona since the pandemic began sits at just under 41,000.) Similarly, the percentage of ventilators in use across the state has inched upwards, while Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds in use by all patients — not just those suffering from COVID-19 — has climbed to over 80 percent. Additionally, the percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive has spiked. In total, 1,239 have died from COVID-19 in Arizona, while state officials urged hospitals in early June to activate their emergency plans to handle a surge in patients.

Ducey emphasized that hospitals still have capacity to treat patients, although Dr. Cara Christ, the DHS director, said some have reached the 80 percent bed occupancy threshold and may have to begin shutting down elective surgeries. Christ said hospitals have not entered crisis care yet, though.

There’s more bad news. Researchers at Arizona State University reported on Wednesday that the rise in Arizona case numbers is likely due to “increased community transmission” and that transmission of the virus has increased 40 percent since May 11, right around the time that Ducey’s lockdown order was lifted on May 15. Their modeling also shows that, without a change in the transmission rate, there will be a “future exponential growth” in new COVID-19 cases and that hospitalizations and ICU bed use will continue to rise.

The researchers went on to assert that “decreasing the transmission rate” of COVID-19 depends on “increasing the adherence to strict social distancing, and particularly the wearing of masks.”

To this end, Ducey announced he was changing his position from last week and allowing local jurisdictions to impose and enforce their own mask-usage guidelines. He attributed this change to feedback from local officials and showed a message he’d received from the mayor of Nogales.

Ducey also said he was encouraging all Arizonans to wear masks when they couldn’t socially distance, but said the measure would allow tailored local guidance. While he has been criticized in the past for not wearing a mask in public, Ducey was wearing a black cloth mask when he walked in and carefully replaced it — after sanitizing his hands — at the end of the press conference.

He also said the DHS would be issuing updated guidelines for businesses on ensuring social distancing and limiting capacity, warning that the rules would be enforced if not followed. He said most businesses had been responsible but that there had been some “bad actors.”

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However, Ducey stopped short of imposing additional mitigation guidelines. Instead, he said they would be calling up 300 National Guard members in a “surge” to assist counties in contact tracing. They are also allocating $10 million for PPE and testing in nursing facilities.

In response to a question about an upcoming Arizona Trump rally, Ducey said the rally was exercising precautions.

“We’re going to protect people’s right to assemble in an election [year],” he said.

Meanwhile, national media and public health experts have flagged Arizona as one of several states, including Florida and Texas, where COVID-19 is having a resurgence as states reopen. 

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See More >>Name unknown. Possibly Karen.EXPANDName unknown. Possibly Karen.LinkedIn Sales Navigator from Pexels

How Are the Karens of Phoenix Holding Up?

ROBRT L. PELA | JUNE 16, 2020 | 7:00AM

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The whole “Karen” thing — using the name Karen to chastise anyone who’s being loud, acting entitled, or “calling for the manager” — is at least a couple of years old now. Karens, according to cellphone footage and clusters of memes, are middle-aged, white, and demanding; usually, they wear their blonde hair in a bob and like to start fights at barbecues. Often, we hear, they are racist.

Recently, Karen came to Arizona in a big way. On June 6, a convenience store customer named Tamara Harrian told a Native American customer that she needed to go back to “her country.” The young woman responded by slapping Harrian across the face. Yet another customer caught the scuffle on tape, and several million viral video views later, Arizona Karen was born.

I figured my local friends named Karen were already unhappy about having their name turned into shorthand for “bitchy white racist,” but now, I guessed, they’d really be pissed about Karen-calling in their own backyard.

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It turns out I was mistaken.

My friend Karin Ainley, whom I’ve known since we both worked at a record store chain in the early 1980s, tells me she thinks the Karen thing is a scream.

“I belong to a Facebook group called Karen memes,” she says when I telephone her to talk Karens. “If I need a laugh I go there. There are so many good ones. Like today there was a photo of a Karen checking her luggage at the airport, and her suitcase had her picture taped to it. And the caption was ‘I’m not gonna speak to the manager today!’ It was hilarious!”

Well, maybe not hilarious. But Karin is amused, anyway. The only thing she takes exception to, she says, is the idea of “Karen” as a synonym for white entitlement. She thinks the Karen problem is generational, not race-related.

“It’s crotchety women wanting what we want,” she corrects me. “People my age were taught to speak up when we don’t get satisfaction. So if we’re calling for the manager it’s because we were told to get things right.”

I call my friend Karen Thompson to ask her about this.

“Oh, girl, no,” says this Karen, an African-American woman I’ve known since junior college. “The Karen who told you that is definitely a white lady.”

Overall, Karen Thompson thinks, the Karen trend has an upside. “I’m not on social media,” she reminds me, “but I happen to enjoy hearing my name used to call out noisy white people.”

Maybe, she suggests, she’s getting mean in her old age. “Or maybe I’m just glad to see anything that unites people. That Arizona Karen? She didn’t get famous for doing anything good. We all saw the video, and we all agree that she’s a big smelly asshole. I’ll take my unity where I can get it.”

Like Karin Ainley, my longtime friend Karen Kolbe, who went to high school with my husband, finds the Karen thing pretty amusing.

“I’m not feeling self-conscious about my name,” she says, “but it’s not lost on me that I can never ask for the manager ever again. They’d be like, ‘Okay, Karen!’ That might be the only downside to this whole thing.”

Karen Kolbe feels that Karens complaining about having their names misused are demonstrating that they’re Karens. She tells me she thinks there are better names for entitled women who cause public scenes.

“I would personally nominate Shelly,” she tells me. “How does Shelly strike you? I’ve never known a Shelly that wasn’t a total bitch. Shelly or Patty would be my go-tos, but I’m not in charge.”

I phone my high school friend Karen Pennington Weiss, who taught me to process and print black-and-white film in 1979. She tells me her mom named her Karen so that no one could come up with a cute nickname for her; her mother hated nicknames. Karen sounds bored when I ask her about how her name’s lately being used.

“It’s just another way to categorize people,” she sighs. “Specifically, it’s an ageism thing. I work in a clinic with a lot of young people, and they act like all middle-aged white people are useless and in the way. If I point out something I’ve learned in my years of nursing, then I’m being a bitch. Although I’m probably not allowed to say the word ‘bitch’ anymore. Am I allowed to say ‘bitch’?”

I promise her she can say “bitch” whenever she likes, and then I call Karen Bayless Feldman, my friend who’s a lobbying specialist at the Secretary of State’s office. She tells me she’s been complaining about her first name since she was old enough to realize “how white” it was.

“I’m half Hispanic, but there’s no proof whatsoever,” she says. “I’m very light-skinned, but my mother is a Latina who married a white guy. And my name is Karen, so it just further erases any inkling that I am Latina.”

In her 20s, Karen tried changing her name to Consuella. It didn’t take. “I wanted to do it because I needed a way to tell people who I was. I have to tell people, because when you hear my name, you’re not going to think, ‘Wow, she’s half Hispanic.’”

Regardless of their color, she swears the Karens are real. “They did not just appear out of nowhere with their three kids and their mini-vans, asking to speak to the manager,” she explains. “I have three kids, I used to drive a mini-van, and I have asked to speak to the manager. I used to think of it as self-advocacy. But now it’s about calling the authorities to bring harm to other people. So I won’t be asking for the manager anymore.”

She refuses to complain about the Karen thing. “I can’t say not to use my name for something bad because that’s reverse racism. I don’t believe reverse racism exists. People of color have been treated like crap for 400 years, so watching my name being used like this is nothing in comparison.”

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In fact, Karen Bayless Feldman thinks the whole Karen thing is “ingenious.”

“I can’t think of another name that screams ‘50-year-old lady who read The Help and still voted for Trump’ as much as my name does,” she admits. “Jennifer? Nancy? No. Karen makes sense.”

Before we hang up, she tells me how her daughters, who have always called her Karen, told her that it’s okay if she wants to change her name.

“They suggested Harper, who’s this quirky character from Wizards of Waverly Place who dresses funny,” she told me. “They thought I could take her name instead, to get away from the whole Karen thing. I told them, ‘Sorry. I’m Karen. I don’t know what to tell you. I’m just Karen.’”Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ’s Morning Edition.

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