Your Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Monday, Sept. 14: Total Cases Close in on 208K; Outbreaks Around the UA; Get a Flu Shot; County Test Sites Open

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With 213 new cases reported today, the number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases closed in on 208,000 as of Monday, Sept. 14, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

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Pima County had seen 22,511 of the state’s 207,725 confirmed cases.

A total of 5,322 Arizonans had died after contracting COVID-19, including 602 deaths in Pima County, according to the Sept. 14 report.

The number of hospitalized COVID cases continues to decline from July peaks. ADHS reported that as of Sept. 13, 489 COVID patients were hospitalized in the state, the lowest that number has been since April 8, when 338 COVID patients were hospitalized.. That number peaked at 3,517 on July 13.

A total of 861 people visited emergency rooms on Sept. 13 with COVID symptoms. That number peaked at 2,008 on July 7.

A total of 168 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Sept. 13, the lowest that number has been since April 8, when 155 COVID patients 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 2,396 cases, according to a Sept. 11 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, although the level of new cases has essentially plateaued in recent weeks rather than continuing to drop. For the week ending Aug. 22, the number of new cases dropped to 528; for the week ending Aug. 29, 514 new cases were reported; and for the week ending Sept. 5, a total of 527 cases were reported. (Recent weeks are subject to revision.)

Deaths in Pima County are down from a peak of 55 in the week ending July 4 to 19 for the week ending Aug. 15, 13 for the week ending Aug. 22 and nine in the week ending Aug. 29. (As above, these numbers are subject to revision as recent 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, 36 COVID patients were admitted to Pima County hospitals and in the week ending Sept. 5, 21 patients were admitted to Pima County hospitals. (Numbers are subject to revision.)

Cases spiking among UA students

Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik warned yesterday that the off-campus private residential towers near Speedway and Park Avenue are a breeding ground for COVID.

The Ward 6 Democrat said that testing had shown that in HUB Tucson, 45 of 490 residents had tested positive for COVID, some of whom had tested negative through the UA’s rapid-result antigen test.

“With 490 residents living in a confined congregate setting, the likelihood is the virus is already spreading throughout the building at an alarming pace,” Kozachik warned.

Kozachik said his request that management test all residents was rejected.

Pima County will be closing the swimming pools at the residential towers, according to Kozachik, who added that common areas in the buildings will also be closed.

Kozachik’s weekend announcement comes days after the University of Arizona administration took a stern tone during a Sept. 9 press conference as they indicated consequential action will be taken against students who refuse to follow the university’s rules to prevent disease transmission.

When UA began the fall semester on Aug. 24, they established a public health campaign, free COVID-19 tests, antibody tests, personal protective equipment and other infrastructure to prevent an outbreak on campus. But the administration has found that when students go off-campus, they aren’t following the rules and new COVID-19 positive cases have surfaced.

In sorority and fraternity houses, UA President Dr. Robert Robbins reported high positive percentages among residents: 10 positives of 21 residents in one house, 19 of 30 in another, and 15 of 35 in another.

Because of this transmission, Robbins said it is likely that some Greek life residents will be put on quarantine. Pima County Public Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen added that during the state’s shelter-in-place order, the positive percentage of COVID-19 tests was around 10 percent.

“When Dr. Robbins shares these percentages, they translate into positivity rates that are far beyond 10 percent,” Cullen said.

She noted that the university is quickly getting into a situation where “we will have to take an aggressive stance.” Any Greek house quarantines would be supervised and supported by the county health department.

Robbins said the university has provided support to off-campus housing management companies and the Greek community to increase awareness of COVID-19 and the proper preventative measures.

About 90 dorm students are currently in isolation units on-campus after testing positive for COVID-19. The administration’s stance is if students refuse to follow social distancing and mask rules, there will be restrictions of activity.

Ahead of Labor Day weekend, the university announced a partnership with the Tucson Police Department and local neighborhood associations to crack down on COVID-19 safety violations that occur off-campus.

Robbins and Campus Reentry Task Force Director Dr. Richard Carmona said they expect an upcoming spike in COVID-19 cases over the next few weeks based on the student behavior and activities they’ve observed since the school year began.

They both said they are aware of student parties that have been going on, and that significant transmission will happen if consequences aren’t established now.

“These numbers just show to me that we’re not doing a good job of controlling the transmission of the virus,” Robbins said.

He said these students could potentially spread the virus to those in higher risk populations when they come in contact at grocery stores, restaurants and other public places.

Right now, the university has a 7-8 percent average positivity rate in their COVID-19 antigen testing. As of Tuesday, Sept. 8, the UA has administered 19,794 tests and found 709 positive cases. On Sept. 8 alone, 150 tests came back positive.

“We’re at a critical juncture, if these bumps occur ... we will have to shut things down,” Carmona said.

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 Arizona Department of Health Services is 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, 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, UA offering antibody testing

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.

Meanwhile, the FDA has approved to 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 Mike Truelsen

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