Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Your Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup: Confirmed Cases Rise To 3,962 in State; 142 Now Dead; UA Teaming Up with State for Antibody Tests; Financial Picture Grim for City of Tucson

Posted By on Wed, Apr 15, 2020 at 9:04 AM

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The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Arizona had reached 3,962 as of Wednesday, April 15, according to the morning report from the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County had seen 700 of the state’s confirmed cases.

The coronavirus had killed 142 people statewide, including 34 in Pima County, according to the state and county health department.

In Maricopa County, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases had risen to 2,146.

Because testing still lags in Arizona, health officials say those numbers undercount the number of people infected with the virus. The state is not yet releasing information about how many people who have tested positive have now recovered.

Ducey yesterday announced a partnership with the University of Arizona 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 tests would go to healthcare workers and first responders.

“Antibody testing is not a cure-all, but learning more about it is an important step to identifying community exposure, helping us make decisions about how we protect our citizens, and getting us to the other side of this pandemic more quickly,” Ducey said in a prepared statement. “Our health care workers and first responders are on the front lines, and my top priority is to identify ways to protect them and I am eager to get this underway.”

The state remains under Ducey’s stay-at-home order that has closed a wide number of “non-essential” businesses, including many retail stores, barbershops, salons and swap meets. Public parks remain open but amenities such as playgrounds and restrooms are closed.

Under the stay-at-home order, Arizonans are still able to shop for groceries, medical and household needs, and pet supplies. They can also go 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.

President Donald Trump has said that he is considering May 1 as the date for lifting stay-at-home orders. Asked by a reporter Monday what authority he had to lift stay-at-home orders issued by state governors, Trump replied: “When somebody’s the President of the United States, the authority is total. And that’s the way it’s gotta be. It’s total. And the governors know that.”

The outbreak has hammered Arizona's economy, with nearly a quarter-million people applying for unemployment in recent weeks. State budget forecasters told lawmakers last week that the state is facing a budget deficit of $1.1 billion in the next fiscal year, which begins in July. But they cautioned that the uncertainty surrounding the outbreak means they could be wrong by $500 million in either direction.

At yesterday’s Tucson City Council meeting, City Manager Mike Ortega warned council members that the city was going to take a major financial hit, but said he didn’t have enough data to make an informed forecast as to the depth of it.

“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.”

UA President Robert C. Robbins warned in a teleconference that a return to normal life could months away—or longer. “Until there's a vaccine, we’re never going to be completely risk free,” Robbins said. “That’s probably a year at least before we would have a vaccine.”

Robbins also said that the UA was bracing for the possibility that many out-of-state and international students might not return to campus in the fall because of the outbreak, which could lead to financial calamity for the university. “The financial impact, we’re modeling it, but as you could imagine our net tuition revenue is derived greatly from out-of-state and international students. So we’re going to have significant shortfalls in the projections of what we’re going to have in tuition revenue,” Robbins said.

Visitors from areas with major community spread of COVID-19 now must enter quarantine for two weeks if they come to Arizona, under an executive order issued by Ducey.

Business owners have scrambled to take advantage of loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, which is offering $349 billion in forgivable loans as part of the $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package passed by Congress in response to the outbreak. Business owners have complained that the loan process, run through banks by the Small Business Administration, was too complicated and filled with roadblocks.

Restaurants, which are limited to takeout and delivery, can sell more of their bulk goods and supplies as groceries. Tucson Mayor Regina Romero announced last week that local restaurants could now operate pop-up grocery stores and sell their bulk goods without any changes to their certificates of occupancy.

Under one of Ducey’s new orders, the staff at nursing homes and similar facilities now have to wear personal protective equipment and institute symptom checks for anyone entering the building. In addition, residents must be provided with a video device to communicate with the outside world, according to an executive.

Ducey has also said hospitals and healthcare workers, who are concerned about a shortfall in personal protective equipment, are required to track data related to COVID-19 such as available hospital beds, the number of patients visiting emergency rooms with COVID-19 symptoms and the use of ventilators and personal protective equipment.

With schools now closed through the end of the academic year, teachers have transitioned to online learning and districts across the region are delivering lunch and breakfast meals to kids via school buses or setting up central locations.

In the face of the spreading virus, Ducey has also halted residential, business and nonprofit evictions; halted all elective surgery to keep hospital beds available for COVID-19 patients; loosened regulations to make telemedicine more available and increase eligibility for AHCCCS, the state's Medicaid program; and activated the National Guard to assist in grocery stores as Arizonans clear the shelves.

Courts have rescheduled most hearings to avoid spreading the virus.

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. Practices to avoid infection include social distancing (of at least six feet), washing your hands, avoiding unnecessary trips and not touching your face. COVID-19 can survive on cardboard for up to 24 hours, and on stainless steel and plastic surfaces up to three days.

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. If you develop more severe symptoms (persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, bluish lips) get medical attention immediately. Your local health authorities will give instructions on checking your symptoms and reporting information.

Have you caught COVID-19? Are you feeling ill? Is your small business struggling to make it? Have you lost your job as a result of the outbreak? Are you struggling to manage your kids while schools are closed? Tell us your COVID-19 stories. Send an email or photo to tucsoneditor@tucsonlocalmedia.com.

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