Monday, April 20, 2020

Your Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Update: Confirmed Cases Top 5,000: 187 Now Dead From Virus; Protestors Oppose Ducey's Stay-at-Home Order

Posted By on Mon, Apr 20, 2020 at 9:09 AM

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The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Arizona had topped 5,000 as of Monday, April 20, according to the morning report from 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, 
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including 58 in Pima County, according to the report.

In Maricopa County, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases had risen to 2,636.

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

Because COVID-19 symptoms can take as long as two weeks to appear after exposure to the virus (and some people can remain entirely asymptomatic), health officials say community spread of the disease is far worse than the official numbers suggest. They have urged the public to avoid unnecessary trips and gatherings of more than 10 people and advised people to cover their faces with masks in public.

Protestors drove cars around the state Capitol yesterday and planned to return today to express their unhappiness with Gov. Doug 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, 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 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.

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.

The outbreak has hammered Arizona's economy, with more than a quarter-million people applying for unemployment in recent weeks. State budget forecasters warned lawmakers earlier this month 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 last 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 recent 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.

Last week, the UA announced furloughs for all employees, along with other pay cuts for high-paid employees.

The UA 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 healthcare workers and first responders, while Robbins plans to use them to test students, faculty, and staff at the university.

“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 Paycheck Protection Program, which offered $349 billion in forgivable loans as part of the $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package passed by Congress in response to the outbreak, has run out money. Many business owners have complained that the loan process, run through banks by the Small Business Administration, was too complicated and filled with roadblocks. Senate Republicans are trying to add another $250 million to the program, but Democrats are insisting the package include aid to the states to avoid massive budget cuts.

Restaurants, which are limited to takeout and delivery, can sell more of their bulk goods and supplies as groceries.

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, although that regulation is now under review as hospitals have not been overrun with COVID-19 patients and the lack of elective surgeries has landed a major financial hit to hospitals; loosened regulations to make telemedicine more available and increased 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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