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Southern Arizona COVID-19 Roundup

The COVID-19 stories we covered this week.

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The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Arizona had topped 5,000 as of Monday, April 20, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Pima County had seen 941 of the state's 5,064 confirmed cases. The coronavirus had killed 187 people statewide, including 58 in Pima County, according to the report. In Maricopa County, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases had risen to 2,636.

Nationwide, more than 720,630 people had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, which had killed an estimated 37,202 people of Monday, April 20, according to preliminary statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because test kits remain in short supply and COVID-19 symptoms can take as long as two weeks to appear after exposure (while some people can remain entirely asymptomatic), health officials say community spread of the disease is worse than the official count. They have urged the public to avoid unnecessary trips and gatherings of more than 10 people.

A small group protested at the state Capitol this week to express their unhappiness with Gov. Doug Ducey's stay-at-home order that has closed a wide number of "non-essential" businesses, including bars, beauty salons, tattoo parlors, swap meets and many retail stores. Public parks remain open but amenities such as playgrounds and restrooms are closed. Under the stay-at-home order, which is set to expire on April 30 unless it is renewed, Arizonans are still able to shop for groceries, medical and household needs, and pet supplies. They can also go to work, pick up a take-out meal from a restaurant, travel to take care of a family member, friend or pet, and can still go walking, hiking, biking and golfing, provided that they adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Many local businesses struck out in their applications for loans under the $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program, which was part of the $2.2 trillion COVID-19 relief passed by Congress last month. Republicans have pushed to add $250 billion to the program, but the legislation stalled because Democrats demanded additional aid to state and local governments that are seeing huge budget hits as businesses shutter their doors and are unable to collect sales taxes.

The University of Arizona announced that employees would have to take furloughs and, in some cases, other pay cuts. UA President Robert C. Robbins says that university is facing a dire financial situation, as it's unknown how many out-of-state and international students will return to the campus for the fall semester if the COVID-19 outbreak still poses a threat. "The task ahead is not easy, and it depends largely on the resolution of our public health crisis," Robbins said in a letter to UA employees.

The University of Arizona plans to produce 250,000 tests for COVID-19 antibodies. Such tests could tell people if they have already been exposed to COVID-19, which is deadly to some patients while others remain asymptomatic. Testing for antibodies could identify people who are no longer at risk for catching COVID-19, although there have been reports of people coming down with the disease after beating it once. Ducey said the state would use the tests for healthcare workers and first responders, while Robbins plans to use them to test students, faculty and staff at the university.

The Tucson City Council discussed an expected significant collapse in city sales tax and other revenue streams during the COVID-19 pandemic at last week's study session, but they won't know how bad the situation is until summer. "We know there's an iceberg ahead, but won't know how large until probably mid-June," said Ward 6 Councilmember Steve Kozachik before the study session. "We need to budget assuming the Titanic and hope to be surprised."

• The City of Tucson launched a new program to house homeless people who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or who are considered high-risk in two local hotels that have a total of 315 rooms available. The program is funded through a $1.67 million Emergency Solutions Grant allocated from the federal CARES Act package.

Walgreens announced it would begin drive-thru COVID-19 testing at an eastside Tucson location, 10315 E. Broadway Blvd., but by appointment only. Fill out an online health questionnaire to determine if you are eligible at walgreens.com/coronavirus.

• COVID-19 symptoms typically occur two to 14 days after exposure, and include headache, fever, cough, and shortness of breath, according to the CDC. However, some cases of the virus are entirely asymptomatic.

• If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop a fever, cough or difficulty breathing, speak with a healthcare provider for medical advice. According to the CDC, people who are mildly ill with COVID-19 are able to recover at home. Stay at home and avoid public transportation, but stay in touch with your doctor. If you do leave your home, wear a facemask and clean your hands often.

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

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