With just 81 new cases reported on Labor Day, the number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases topped 206,000 as of Tuesday, Sept. 8, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Pima County had seen 22,035 of the state’s 206,045 confirmed cases.
A total of 5,221 Arizonans had died after contracting COVID-19, including 596 deaths in Pima County, according to the Sept. 8 report.
The number of hospitalized COVID cases continues to decline from July peaks. ADHS reported that as of Sept. 7, 657 COVID patients were hospitalized in the state, the lowest that number has been since April 19, when 637 COVID patients were in the hospital. That number peaked at 3,517 on July 13.
A total of 855 people visited emergency rooms on Sept. 7 with COVID symptoms. That number peaked at 2,008 on July 7.
A total of 212 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Sept. 3, the lowest that number has been since April 8, when 155 people were in ICU. The number of COVID patients in ICUs peaked at 970 on July 13.
On a week-by-week basis in Pima County, the number of positive COVID tests peaked the week ending July 4 with 2,398 cases, according to a Sept. 4 report from the Pima County Health Department. While a vocal minority continues to insist that masks do no good, the spread of the virus began to decline within weeks of Pima County’s mask mandate, as more people began wearing them in public. For the week ending Aug. 22, the number of new cases dropped to 495 and for the week ending Aug. 29, 455 new cases were reported.
Deaths in Pima County are down from a peak of 54 in the week ending July 4 to 20 for the week ending Aug. 15 and 13 for the week ending July 22. (Note that these numbers are subject to revision as recent cases and deaths may not have been reported.)
Hospitalization peaked the week ending July 18 with 239 COVID patients admitted to Pima County hospitals. For the week ending Aug. 29, 30 COVID patients were admitted to Pima County hospitals.
Benchmarks met to allow schools to begin hybrid learning
Pima County last week reached benchmarks indicating that it has moved from “substantial” spread of the coronavirus to “moderate” spread, meaning local school districts can now consider hybrid learning that would allow some students to return to the classroom while others continue distance learning.
Pima County has had fewer than 100 cases per 100,000 individuals for two consecutive weeks; two straight weeks with the percentage of positive tests below 7 percent; and two consecutive weeks with the total of people visiting hospitals with COVID-like symptoms at less than 10 percent of the total number of people seeking medical attention.
Pima County School Superintendent Dustin Williams said Arizona’s decreasing trends in COVID-19 data are promising, but schools cannot let their guard down yet. He warned against the process of closing and reopening schools repeatedly, but said there are small opportunities for supplementing online learning with in-person interaction.
“What I think you might be able to see is some small cohorts of groups that follow the social distancing rules, you might see it in your younger grades to start with, and then you’ll have a blend of also remote learners that are still going to school in that fashion,” Williams said. “But for full-blown opening, at this time it’s still too high of a risk.”
Williams noted that public school districts, charter schools and private schools all have full autonomy over whether to bring students back to campus. As of last week, Pima County public school districts were holding off on traditional in-person classroom learning, but expect those conversations to develop in upcoming weeks.
UA continues to pause reopening plans, cracks down on off-campus parties
The University of Arizona has paused its phased reopening of the campus. UA President Dr. Robert Robbins said the university is monitoring public health conditions and will continue to make adjustments to the plans as necessary.
Robbins’ plan has had blowback from some university faculty, staff and students, who worry bringing so many students back will result in widespread COVID transmission.
Just one day after reopening the campus, the UA administration announced the delay of the staged reopening plan. In an Aug. 25 email to faculty, students and staff, UA Provost Liesl Folks said the administration decided to continue Stage 1 of the reopening (essential in-person classes only) during the second week of instruction. That has been extended into this week.
Stage 2 was originally set to begin on Aug. 31 and would have allowed small classes to resume in person, bringing another 9,000 people to campus.
Ahead of Labor Day weekend, Robbins announced the university would be partnering with the Tucson Police Department to crack down on big parties and other COVID-19 safety violations that occur off-campus.
In partnership with the city and county, the police will be responding to residential complaints in neighborhoods surrounding the university. Businesses in the University Boulevard/Fourth Avenue corridor have also been asked to reinforce public health directives.
“We encourage everyone: Please do not have large gatherings,” Robbins said at the press conference. “We know that it’s ripe for transmission of this deadly virus.”
As of Sept. 3, the UA has tested 15,695 people in the university community and found 480 positive cases of COVID-19. On Sept. 3, 79 people tested positive.
Seniors in assisted living centers and nursing homes can have visitors
One of the most heartbreaking aspects of the virus has been how it has hammered nursing homes where it was able to spread. Out of caution, the state shut down visitation in most nursing homes and kept patients isolated in their rooms, with communal areas closed. But the state has now hit benchmarks that will allow outdoor visitation to resume provided all parties wear facemasks and maintain a physical distance of six feet. Indoor visitation remains off limits.
Ducey: Get a Flu Shot
Gov. Doug Ducey and public health experts are asking Arizonans to get a flu shot to help keep hospital capacity low and available for those with COVID.
The governor said last week that the Arizona Department of Health Services will be implementing an aggressive plan of action during this flu season by distributing the vaccination for free to all Arizonans through doctor’s offices, pharmacies, local health departments and community healthcare centers statewide.
“We don’t want cost to be something that gets in the way of this,” Ducey said. “If you are uninsured or underinsured we want you to get a flu shot and it’s the best thing you can do to add more help to our situation in Arizona.”
Ducey said the overlap with COVID produces greater challenges than a typical flu season and preventing the flu is more important than ever. More than 4,000 people were hospitalized with flu symptoms in Arizona last year and roughly 700 people die from the illness each year, according to the governor.
The state will reimburse Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System providers offering free flu shots to AHCCCS members, while giving AHCCCS members a $10 gift card for their troubles after they've been vaccinated, said Ducey. The governor announced he is also allowing certified pharmacists the ability to administer the vaccine to AHCCCS-enrolled children.
“These actions have led to a 50 percent increase of flu shot administration rates in other states,” Ducey said. “We’re confident they’ll make a big difference in Arizona as well.”
Certain COVID-19 testing sites will also offer flu shots to those getting tested for coronavirus in starting in September, said Ducey. The Arizona Department of Health Services will expand online resources to help the public find free vaccine distribution locations as well as help businesses set up their own flu shot clinics for employees, according to the governor.
“I want to emphasize Arizona’s most important partner in this fight is you, the people of Arizona,” Ducey said. “You’ve made a big difference in where we are today and you could make a huge difference in where we’ll be tomorrow going forward.”
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—with results in 48 to 72 hours.
You’ll have a nasal swab test 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.
UA antibody testing open to all
The FDA has approved the University of Arizona’s antibody test. As a result, the testing has now been opened to all Arizonans as the state attempts to get handle on how many people have been exposed to COVID-19 but were asymptomatic or otherwise did not get a test while they were ill.
To sign up for testing, visit https://covid19antibodytesting.arizona.edu/home.
—with additional reporting from Kathleen B. Kunz, Austin Counts, Jeff Gardner and Tara Foulkrod