Here are the stories we covered today:
- The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Arizona hit 4,507 as of Friday, April 17, according to the morning report from the Arizona Department of Health Services.
- There's a virtual prom tonight being hosted by John Krasinski over YouTube.
- Local business owners have been left stranded after the Small Business Association announced their rescue loan program ran out of money on Thursday, April 16.
- In response to the financial impact of COVID-19, the University of Arizona will furlough most of their nearly 15,000 employees beginning May 11 until June 30.
- The City of Tucson is rolling out a new program today using local hotels to provide shelter and isolation for the homeless exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms or who are at high risk for contracting the disease.
- Marana High School senior Matthew Glasshoff is competing against 48 other thespians in this year's English-Speaking Union National Shakespeare Competition.
- As of Friday, April 17, Walgreens is offering drive-thru COVID-19 testing at their 10315 E. Broadway Blvd. location.
- Times are tough, money is tight, and local restaurants could use help more now than ever— especially when it comes to advertising themselves to the public on a dime.
Ducey this week 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.
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 this week'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 last week 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 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. The program has already run out of money as area business owners 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.
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 halted residential, business and nonprofit evictions; halted all elective surgery to keep hospital beds available for COVID-19 patients, although that order has may be relaxed soon as hospitals have not seen a rush of COVID-19 patients and are losing revenue by turning away elective surgery; 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.