With 1,281 new cases reported today, the number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases closed in on 213,000 as of Friday, Sept. 18, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Pima County had seen 24,313 of the state’s 212,942 confirmed cases.
As with yesterday’s jump of 1,753 cases, today’s dramatic increase in cases was a result of the state including a big batch of antigen tests, according to Arizona Health Department Director Cara Christ, who said she anticipated another jump in numbers tomorrow as the department processes the new tests, many of which are coming from the University of Arizona’s testing of students. Antigen tests are not as reliable but provide faster results, according to Christ. As a result, not all positive antigen tests have been counted in Arizona’s COVID-19 tally, although they will be in the future.
“Moving forward, we are expanding how we define cases to include anyone with a positive antigen test in the probable case category, which is consistent with the recently updated national case definition for COVID-19 from the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE),” Christ wrote on her blog.
With 42 new deaths today, a total of 5,451 Arizonans had died after contracting COVID-19, including 613 deaths in Pima County, according to the Sept. 18 report.
The number of hospitalized COVID cases continues to decline from July peaks. ADHS reported that as of Sept. 17, 516 COVID patients were hospitalized in the state. The number of hospitalized COVID patients peaked at 3,517 on July 13.
A total of 854 people visited emergency rooms on Sept. 17 with COVID symptoms. That number peaked at 2,008 on July 7.
A total of 130 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Sept. 17. 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. 17 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 creeped back up in recent weeks with the return of UA students. For the week ending Aug. 29, 507 new cases were reported; for the week ending Sept. 5, a total of 667 cases were reported; for the week ending Sept. 12, 584 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 in the week ending Aug. 22, 10 in the week ending Aug. 29 and three in the week ending Sept. 5. (As above, these numbers are subject to revision as recent deaths may not have been reported.)
Hospitalization peaked the week ending July 18 with 237 COVID patients admitted to Pima County hospitals. For the week ending Aug. 29, 38 COVID patients were admitted to Pima County hospitals; in the week ending Sept. 5, 24 patients were admitted to Pima County hospitals; and in the week ending Sept. 12, 16 patients were admitted. (Numbers are subject to revision.)
Here’s the other big COVID news of the week:
UA students asked to quarantine in their homes for two weeks
University of Arizona President Dr. Robert Robbins and Pima County Public Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen yesterday announced they are recommending a 14-day quarantine for students living on and off campus within a geographical boundary they have identified as showing high transmission of the novel coronavirus.
Robbins said this is a “last ditch” effort to get students to follow public health directives before they have to take more drastic measures. Robbins gave off a frustrated tone at the press conference, saying the university is dealing with a “blatant disregard for public health measures.”
“I’m short of saying I’m mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore,” Robbins said. “This is part of being a good member of society, to take into account the health of others, not just your individual health and your individual desire to go out and party.”
Cullen said they aren’t seeing transmission as a result of classes, labs or on-campus activity, but more so off-campus social activities and parties.
The quarantine allows exceptions for students enrolled in essential in-person classes such as science labs and performance and fine arts classes. Students in the quarantine boundary are also allowed to go on essential shopping trips, appointments and work if necessary.
“There are a clear subset of individuals, primarily students, who are not following the rules,” Robbins said during a press conference. “Today, we’re going to ratchet up the warnings, the encouragement to please follow the rules.
Cullen said that by establishing a recommended two week quarantine, they will have the potential to ensure that the increased virus transmission will go back down.
Robbins said enforcement of the recommended quarantine will be difficult, but the university has established a support system to assist students during this time and he hopes they will follow this recommendation before the condition of COVID-19 spread at UA worsens.
He said the university administration anticipated this problem once students came to campus at the beginning of the semester. He hoped the university wouldn't have to institute “more draconian measures, but we're to that point.”
Robbins said the university will have to move toward an all-digital learning model if they cannot get the situation under control.
“This is it, this is your last chance,” he said.
The announcement came one day after Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik warned 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.
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.
County discourages trick-and-treating this Halloween
The Pima County Health Department today announced recommendations for how to safely enjoy Halloween during COVID-19. They continue to advise against large gatherings in favor of drive-thru events and maintained social distancing. PCHD is also getting creative, stating how wearing facemasks can even be incorporated into your Halloween costume.
Instead of attending Halloween carnivals or door-to-door trick-or-treating, PCHD recommends:
• Online parties/contests such as costume or pumpkin carving
• Car parades that comply with public health guidance for vehicle-based parades. Consider drive-by events or contests where individuals dress up or decorate their vehicles and drive-by “judges” who are appropriately physically distanced. Or do drive-through events where kids remain in vehicles and drive through an area with Halloween displays. Or do drive-in events where individuals can receive a treat bag—limited to commercially packaged, non-perishable treats—or a take-away item from an organizer with appropriate PPE while the participants remain in their vehicle.
• Halloween movie nights at drive-in theaters, which must comply with the public health drive-in movie theater guidance.
• Halloween-themed meals at outdoor restaurants that comply with the restaurant protocol.
• Dressing up homes and yards with Halloween-themed decorations.
“The entire 2020 holiday season will look different this year,” said PCHD director Dr. Theresa Cullen. “I encourage everyone to have fun, but do so safely. Regardless of how you choose to celebrate Halloween, it is important to continue to wear facemasks, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer, and follow physical distancing.”
TEP extends moratorium on power shut-offs
Tucson Electric Power will continue to suspend service disconnections and late fees for nonpayment till the end of 2020 in an effort to help those affected by the pandemic.
The disconnection moratorium, approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission, was slated to end on Oct. 15.
“We know that many families and small businesses are facing financial hardships right now, so we want to be as flexible as we can to support them,” said TEP COO Susan Gray “We also want to help customers avoid falling too far behind on bills during this difficult period.”
TEP is creating payment plans for residential customers with overdue balances starting Oct. 15, to help avoid future service interruptions as the new year begins.
The electric company encourages customers with overdue balances to call 520-623-7711 for assistance with payment extensions or customer assistance programs.
Last March, TEP voluntarily suspended service disconnections to help alleviate financial hardships due to statewide closures in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Soon after, the Arizona Corporation Commission approved a moratorium on the disconnection of residential electric service from June 1 to Oct.15.
Get a Flu Shot
The Arizona Department of Health Services is implementing an aggressive plan of action during this flu season by distributing free flu shots vaccination to all Arizonans through doctor’s offices, pharmacies, local health departments and community healthcare centers statewide.
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 state health officials.
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.
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 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