Friday, July 10, 2020

Your Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Friday, July 10: Total Cases Reach 116K; Hospitals Remain Under Pressure; Ducey Takes Bold Step of Limiting Restaurant Capacity, Promises More Testing; Democrats Call His Actions "Woefully Inadequate"

Posted By on Fri, Jul 10, 2020 at 9:09 AM

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Arizona climbed past 116K as of Friday, July 10, after the state reported 4,221 new cases this morning, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Pima County had 11,172 of the state's 116,892 confirmed cases.

A total of 2,082 people have died after contracting the virus.

Maricopa County has nearly two-thirds of the state's cases, with the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases hitting 76,328.
Hospitals remain under pressure. The report shows that 3,432 COVID patients were hospitalized yesterday in the state.

A total of 1,875 people visited ERs yesterday.

A total of 876 COVID-19 patients were in ICU beds yesterday.

In response to the rising cases, Gov. Doug Ducey said yesterday that restaurants would be limited to 50 percent capacity, though he took no other steps to reduce the spread of the virus.

Ducey did say that the state was reaching a plateau since local officials had begun requiring masks in some communities but stopped short of mandating the wearing of masks himself. Ducey said it would be better if Arizonans decided to do that without his mandate.

Democrats in the Arizona Senate released a joint statement saying they were "profoundly disappointed" in Ducey's failure to take further action. The statement reads:

The newest actions to curb COVID-19 in Arizona are reactionary, piecemeal half measures that are inadequate to substantially slow the spread of the virus. We have urged, and continue to urge, the Governor to take swift and preemptive actions to curtail the virus’s spread, especially in light of Arizona being reported as the worst in the world for the COVID-19 pandemic. If we truly care about the health and economy of the state, then we need another statewide stay at home order. Only limiting indoor dining to less than 50 percent is woefully inadequate to significantly curb the spread of COVID-19 in Arizona. This fragmented approach has clear economic consequences–consequences that could have been avoided had we taken the pandemic seriously earlier. Taking more aggressive action now will allow us to safely open schools in the future.

We are glad to see more funding to provide 5,000 COVID-19 tests a day, but Senate Democrats have repeatedly called for a statewide mask order, ongoing funding for free COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, and PPE for medical professionals and schools. Additionally, we need action taken to extend the eviction moratorium, provide rental assistance, increase state unemployment benefits and provide further small business support at the state and federal level. Our time has run out. We are now seeing the disturbing reports of mortuaries needing to buy additional coolers as they run out of capacity and news of Arizona hospitals having to send COVID-19 patients to out of state hospitals.

We are not close to reaching the end of this pandemic and we must listen to the science and mitigate until we can bend the curb. The numbers are not going down, and to that end we must take more significant actions if we hope to drastically curb the spread of Coronavirus.

The bell is tolling multiple times a day, Governor, not for some romantic notion of personal freedom but rather for death. The longer you refuse to take stronger action is another day that the question for whom does the bell toll is answered by families grieving the loss of loved ones. This must stop.
Earlier this week, the five Democrats in Arizona's congressional delegation—U.S. Reps. Raul Grijalva, Tom O'Halleran, Ann Kirkpatrick, Greg Stanton, and Ruben Gallego—have asked FEMA to bring expanded testing to Arizona as COVID-19 cases continue their uncontrolled spread.

In a letter to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Federal Emergency Management Agency Acting Administrator Peter Gaynor, the members of Congress requested a “massive testing blitz” in Arizona.

"Access to testing is dangerously limited and is not even close to meeting demand," the lawmakers wrote. "Arizona is in the bottom third of per capita testing nationally and has the highest positive test rate in the nation at 25 percent- which is three times the national average. Arizonans have reported waiting in line for up to 13 hours for a test and having to wait as long as three weeks to receive the results. There is no way our state will get a handle on the virus with such inadequate testing."

The lawmakers note the outbreak's spread in Arizona is accelerating and putting major pressure on the healthcare system.

"Although it took our state five months to record its first 50,000 cases, it took us approximately two weeks to record an additional 50,000 cases," the lawmakers wrote. "Alarmingly, we are now leading the nation in new daily cases per capita and not by a close margin. This has put severe pressure on our state’s health care resources. A record number of COVID-19 patients are in the hospital, in the ICU, and on ventilators. In response to only 9 percent ICU capacity remaining and some hospitals reaching 100% capacity, the state has authorized crisis standards of care."

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden also called on the federal government to increase testing earlier this week.

"Arizonans have been forced to endure 13 hours in line in the boiling heat for a COVID-19 test, hospitals are overwhelmed, the test positivity rate is soaring, and the pleas of local leaders for help were repeatedly dismissed," Biden said in a prepared statement. "Enough. The Trump Administration must immediately resume operating federally-managed community-based testing around the country and establish multiple sites in Arizona. It must open them in every hot spot in the country and in every underserved community, and it must keep increasing the number of testing sites until there are no more lines. The crisis in Arizona is the direct result of Donald Trump's failure to lead and his desire to 'slow the testing down,' and Americans are suffering the consequences. The President must act."

Meanwhile, as President Donald Trump continues to pressure schools to open next month despite the rise in numbers in states such as Arizona, some local school districts have announced that they will only offer "distance learning" or online instruction when school starts next month. Unlike in spring, when schools moved online following spring break, districts are planning stricter instructional time designed to mirror traditional in-person classes.

Tucson Unified School District and Sunnyside School District revealed in recent days that they would move to an online-only model, while Catalina Foothills is moving forward with a plan that blends in-person classes and distance learning. Amphi School District announced yesterday that it would start online-only instruction on Aug. 10 and could return to the traditional classroom as soon as Aug. 17, but students will be able to continue with online classes if they choose to do so.
Marana School District had not yet updated its plans as of Tuesday, July 7.

TUSD will launch online classes for all students starting Aug. 10, with in-person classroom instruction delayed until "when it is deemed safe," according to a letter to parents from TUSD Superintendent Gabrielle Trujillo.

Although Gov. Doug Ducey announced earlier this week that the start of the school year would be moved from Aug. 3 to Aug. 17, Trujillo said that date "may be aspirational."

"Due to this uncertainty, and the importance of creating a stable educational environment for our families and staff, Tucson Unified has determined we will begin all students via Remote Learning on Monday, August 10, 2020, and then transition those interested in an on-campus learning experience when it is deemed safe," Trujillo wrote. "Although starting this school year remotely is not ideal, we are committed to offering every child quality and rigorous curriculum, 5 days a week, from our highly qualified teachers. Instruction will be conducted utilizing teacher zoom lessons, as well as, some recorded lessons and offline homework. Classes will be consistent with real-time classroom instruction and will utilize approved online programs with assessment tools."

Likewise, Sunnyside School District Superintendent Steve Holmes told parents that the district would start online classes on Aug. 5.

"While starting school completely online is not ideal, I am confident that we are prepared for a remote learning environment given our track record of using technology as an essential instructional tool for the past 10 years," Holmes said. "We are committed to offering your child a quality uninterrupted learning experience. Our teachers and curriculum staff have been working all summer to ensure that we can remotely deliver the same rigorous curriculum that would have been offered in person."

Catalina Foothills Superintendent Mary Kamerzell said their district is “working 24/7” to create two reopening options for families: full-time in-person learning and full-time remote learning.

“While we adapt to new guidance from the State of Arizona, our priority is to design plans for school re-entry that continue our tradition of academic excellence and create a safe environment for students and staff,” Kamerzell said in a message to parents. “Our primary sources for guidance are the CDC's Considerations for Schools and the American Academy of Pediatrics' COVID-19 Planning Considerations.”

If the governor’s start date gets pushed back again, Kamerzell said the district will be 100 percent ready to begin remote learning for all students on Aug. 17.

Catalina Foothills plans to launch a website with more details about their reopening plans on Monday, July 13.

Pima County announced this week that officials have contracted Maximus Health & Services, Inc. to boost contact tracing efforts in the region. Maximus is an outsourcing company that provides business support to government health agencies such as the Pima County Health Department. They will hire about 150 local residents to perform “extensive” contact tracing as directed by the health department, in order to “alert, educate and isolate” individuals who have come in close contact with a person who is COVID-19 positive.

Pima County said this partnership will dramatically expand its current contact tracing system, at a time when Arizona is experiencing a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases.

“One of the key components of our response to this outbreak that has been difficult to ramp us has been the hours and hours of people power it takes to do this type of work and the systems it takes to support that staff,” said Health Department Director Dr. Theresa Cullen in a statement. “We look forward to being able to quickly take advantage of the experience, capacity, and planning Maximus will be able to provide.”

Pima County will pay $10 million to Maximus for a six-month contract, which has “multiple extension options” in three-month increments that will allow the county to reduce or expand the scope of the contact tracing system as needed.

The Fox Theatre announced on Monday that it was suspending all programming for the remainder of 2020. The historic downtown venue's Paycheck Protection Program funds are now exhausted and the theatre is further reducing staff to only four full-time employees—down from roughly 40 before the pandemic.

"Such deep staffing reductions are particularly hard because it is people that make the place," said Fox Theatre executive director Bonnie Schock. "The people of Tucson chose to rebuild The Fox 20 years ago. Our dedicated Board, enthusiastic patrons, generous volunteers, and tenacious staff have carried that mantle forward. Honestly, it is devastating to see our team disperse. These talented individuals are to be recognized and thanked for all they have done to make The Fox what it is and to advance what it can and will be.”

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