Southern AZ COVID-19 AM roundup for Wednesday, Aug. 26: Total cases close in on 200K; Huckleberry warns that cases are not dropping fast enough in Pima County; County Test Sites Open

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The number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases closed in on 200,000 as of Wednesday, Aug. 26, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

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Pima County had seen 20,911 of the state’s 199,459 confirmed cases.

With 104 new deaths reported today, a total of 4,896 Arizonans had died after contracting COVID-19, according to the Aug. 26 report.



A total of 996 people visited ERs on Aug. 25 with COVID symptoms. That number peaked at 2,008 on July 7.

A total of 305 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Aug. 25, the lowest that number has been since May 20, when 299 people were in ICU. The number in ICUs peaked at 970 on July 13.



In Pima County, the week-by-week counting of cases peaked the week ending July 4 with 2,398 cases, according to an Aug. 19 report from the Pima County Health Department. Those numbers have dropped with Pima County requiring the wearing of masks in public but they have plateaued in recent weeks, with 832 cases in the week ending Aug. 8 and 819 cases in the week ending Aug. 15. (Not all recent cases may have been reported.)

Deaths in Pima County are down from a peak of 54 in the week ending July 4 to 19 for the week ending Aug. 8.

Hospitalization peaked the week ending July 18 with 247 COVID patients admitted to Pima County hospitals. For the week ending Aug. 8, 88 COVID patients were admitted to Pima County hospitals.

Huckleberry: No “significant, sustainable decline in infections or deaths

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry warns the fight against COVID is far from over..

“In looking at the long view over the months since the pandemic started, we are not yet seeing any significant, sustainable decline in infections or deaths,” Huckelberry wrote in an Aug. 24 memo. “This data, as reported by the Arizona Department of Health Services, will and has varied significantly from day to day. This daily fluctuation should not and cannot be interpreted as a trend.”

In order to control the virus, Huckelberry said the county needs to focus on testing, contact tracing, and surveillance testing, which involves continually retesting those who have higher risks of being exposed to COVID-19, such as healthcare workers and first responders. He suggests surveillance testing be done through antigen tests, which are less expensive and produces rapid results.

Huckelberry noted that in the beginning of the pandemic, COVID-19 testing was “very difficult” to access and was reserved only for vulnerable populations and individuals who exhibited symptoms of the virus. Today, he said testing operations are much more robust and the county has capacity to conduct nearly 1,500 PCR tests every day at its three testing locations and more at its mobile testing sites.

While testing has increased, Huckelberry said the county is still struggling to receive test results in a timely manner. He called timeframes from some labs that are processing tests (such as Sonora Quest and LabCorp) “completely unacceptable and essentially useless” for their public health strategy, which requires quick test results so the county can alert an infected person and their contacts.

Meanwhile, private lab Paradigm Laboratories has produced test results in under 48 hours and plans to cut that time down even more with additional testing equipment.

The county health department has added 17 case investigators to their staff and hired about 120 contact tracers to make phone calls to individuals who have possibly been exposed to the virus and provide support to them.

“Contact tracing has multiple purposes including identifying individuals who may have been exposed or may contract COVID-19, supporting their isolation or quarantine, providing medical assistance, social support to those individuals, identifying, evaluating and potentially mitigating activities, functions or locations where COVID-19 infections are spread,” Huckelberry wrote.

Capacity in the healthcare sector has also slightly improved in recent weeks. After Pima County saw a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases in June and July, the number of available hospital beds and ICU beds became critical. Huckelberry said during a few days, the availability of these beds fell to just a handful within the entire county.

Now, Huckelberry reports there are more than 1,550 medical and surgical beds available in general, 380 emergency room beds, 340 ICU beds and 210 ventilators. While this is a noticeable improvement, it is still not at a safe level. Huckelberry said there should be 10 to 20 percent of vacant bed capacity daily.

More on Huckelberry’s memo here.

Get tested: Pima County has several testing centers

Pima County has three free testing centers with easy-to-schedule appointments—often with same-day availability—and you get results in less than 72 hours.

Centers offering a nasal swab are at the Kino Event Center, 2805 E. Ajo Way, and the Udall Center, 7200 E. Tanque Verde Road. The center at the northside Ellie Towne Flowing Wells Community Center, 1660 W. Ruthrauff Road, involves a saliva test designed by ASU.

Schedule an appointment at pima.gov/covid19testing.

The centers are also tied into Pima County’s developing contact tracing operation, which aims to be able to identify potential clusters and warn people if they have been in contact with someone who is COVID-positive.

If you’re interested in a test to determine if you’ve already had COVID-19, the UA has expanded a free COVID-19 antibody testing program to include 15 new categories of essential workers considered at high risk for exposure. The antibody test, developed by researchers at UA Health Sciences, determines who has been exposed to and developed an immune response against COVID-19.

In addition to healthcare workers and first responders, the test program is now open to educators, childcare workers, agriculture, grocery and foodservice workers, hospitality employees, solid-waste collection workers, transportation services workers and members of the National Guard. More information and registration for the test is available at covid19antibodytesting.arizona.edu.

City of Tucson offering rental assistance, grants for those affected by pandemic

The City of Tucson has allocated $4.5 million of federal CARES Act funding for an emergency rent and utility assistance program available to city residents.

To be eligible for the financial assistance, participating renters must have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the household income cannot exceed $68,400.

One application will be accepted per household, and each household can receive up to $2,500 to cover up to three months of late or upcoming rent or utility payments that were incurred after March 1, 2020.

All applicants will need to provide copies of their identification, bills, proof of income and other household information. The city’s Housing and Community Development department is partnering with several nonprofit organizations to administer these funds, including Primavera, Interfaith Community Services, Catholic Community Services and the International Rescue Committee.

Representatives from one of these agencies will contact applicants within five days for a phone interview and may ask for additional information. The funds will be sent directly to each applicants’ landlord and/or utility company.

“Keeping Tucsonans safe and healthy in their homes is the most important thing as many of our residents have been greatly impacted financially by this pandemic,” said Housing and Community Development Director Liz Morales in a press release.

The application process is open and renters are encouraged to apply as soon as possible. Visit www.tucsonaz.gov/hcd/rent-help to complete an application. If you need assistance or are unable to complete the application online, call (520) 837-5364 or email covidemergencyassistance@tucsonaz.gov.

The city is also setting aside $3 million of CARES Act funding to be distributed to local workers and families that have been negatively impacted by the crisis.

The grant program, named the “We Are One | Somos Unos Resiliency Fund” will focus on individuals and households that have not received any state or federal COVID-19 relief money and whose income does not reach Pima County’s self-sufficiency standard.

The self-sufficiency standard measures how much money an individual or family needs to earn to be able to meet their basic needs with no public or private financial assistance. In 2018, the self-sufficiency standard for a single adult in Pima County was $9.66 per hour or $1,700 per month. For a household with two adults and two young children, the standard was $13.22 per hour for both adults, or $4,711 per month.

The city is partnering with the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona, which will administer the grants and accept applications until 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 9.

In addition, the city’s We Are One | Somos Unos Resiliency Fund recently received a $1.25 million donation to provide financial relief for Tucson’s immigrant communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The donations, from the Open Society Foundations and an anonymous donor, will provide funds to immigrants living in the City of Tucson and the City of South Tucson. These are people who have been significantly impacted by COVID-19 but are often excluded from federal aid.

The Open Society Foundations is a worldwide philanthropic organization run by billionaire George Soros.

The $1.25 million will be disbursed through grants to those who were not eligible to receive federal CARES Act stimulus checks earlier this year, and who face additional barriers to financial assistance programs, according to a city press release.

“It is unconscionable that many of our fellow Tucsonans do not have access to federal aid despite risking their lives serving as essential workers during this pandemic,” said Mayor Regina Romero in the release. “No one should suffer hardship in the shadows and, unfortunately, that’s the painful reality many immigrants are enduring.”

Tucson council member Lane Santa Cruz said that early in the COVID-19 pandemic advocates from the Immigrant Empowerment Taskforce shared information about how immigrant families were being affected. In the release, Santa Cruz said they were grateful for the donations which will help the city address these economic injustices.

The Sunnyside Foundation has been designated as the administrator of the funds, and details on how to receive aid will be shared on Sept. 1 at www.sunnysidefoundation.org.

“Entire families in our community are being evicted from their homes, losing jobs, and having to decide between buying groceries or paying utility bills,” said Sunnyside Foundation Executive Director Kerri Lopez-Howell in the release. “We are honored to steward these resources and eager to work alongside grassroots community leaders, organizers, and advocates to ensure that those most impacted receive these dollars.”

Rent assistance available for biz closed by Ducey’s executive order

Gov. Doug Ducey's administration and the Local First Arizona Foundation will accept applications for a new grant program that aims to provide $10 million in financial assistance to small businesses across the state.

The Arizona Small Business Rent and Mortgage Relief Grant program will focus on helping local businesses that had to close their operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor’s office is partnering with the foundation in order to facilitate the disbursements.

“The partnership leverages the grantmaking experience and small business expertise of Local First Arizona Foundation, which has already distributed over $2 million in grant funds to small businesses across the state of Arizona, to continue their work of putting small businesses on a path for recovery,” said Local First Communications Manager Maria Lopez in a press release.

The grants will provide up to two months of rent or mortgage payments for small businesses headquartered in Arizona that were directly impacted by the governor’s Executive Order 2020-43, which shuttered gyms, fitness centers, bars, nightclubs, indoor movie theatres, water parks and tubing operators in response to the spread of COVID-19 throughout the state.

Qualifying businesses can receive up to $25,000, and the money will be prioritized for businesses that are struggling the most to meet their financial obligations and do not have access to other financial support, the release states.

In order to be eligible for this grant program, businesses must have been operating in Arizona prior to Jan. 1, 2020; must be directly impacted by the executive order; must be renting or leasing a physical location outside the owner’s personal residence and must be employing fewer than 50 workers.

Each business owner can only apply for one grant. In order to apply, owners are encouraged to provide rent or mortgage statements for June through October, income source information, attestation of cash on hand and/or attestation of good standing with the Arizona Department of Revenue.

The grant program will give preference to businesses that are the primary or sole source of income for its owners.

The application process opened this morning. Interested individuals can fill out an application at www.localfirstaz.com/azsmallbizrent.

—with additional reporting from Kathleen B. Kunz, Austin Counts, Jeff Gardner and Tara Foulkrod

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