Thursday, July 16, 2020

Your Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Thursday, July 16: Confirmed Cases Reach 134K; More Testing in Pima County; Mask Giveaway This Saturday; Can Schools Reopen Safely?

Posted By on Thu, Jul 16, 2020 at 9:10 AM

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Arizona climbed past 134K as of Thursday, July 16, after the state reported 3,259 new cases this morning, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County had seen 12,697 of the state's 134,613 confirmed cases.

A total of 2,492 people have died after contracting the virus.

Maricopa County has 88,954 of the state's cases.

Hospitals remain under pressure. The report shows that 3,454 COVID patients were hospitalized yesterday in the state.

A total of 1,695 people visited ERs yesterday.

A total of 918 COVID-19 patients were in ICU beds yesterday.

With cases on the rise, concern continues to mount about opening schools next month. Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, said last week that while states that have taken more aggressive steps earlier to slow the spread of the virus will be able to reopen schools, he can’t see the same thing happening in Arizona.

“We just have too much community spread,” Humble said.

Humble, who headed up the Arizona Department of Health Services in the administration of former Gov. Jan Brewer, said there are two main factors to consider when opening schools in the fall: mitigation measures alongside the level of community spread within a school district.

“School districts have some really creative folks and I think they could put some effective mitigation measures in place that would make it safe to open schools if we didn’t have so much community spread,” Humble said. “Because we have the level of community spread that we have, I just don’t see that mitigation measures, which help but don’t eliminate transmission, are going to be adequate to make it a safe environment for teachers and schools and families.”

The state needs a much lower percentage of positive tests and much more hospital capacity before schools can safely reopen, Humble said.

Local school districts are planning a mix of "distance learning" online instruction and in-school 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 will launch online classes for all students starting Aug. 10 but in order to avoid losing state funding, schools will open on Aug. 17 for any student who wants to attend class in person. However, students will be in "learning spaces" where they will do the same distance learning program that students who remain home will experience. Teachers may or may not be in the classroom, which may instead include a monitor to keep an eye on the students who are in the room. All TUSD families will receive laptops. More details here.

Sunnyside School District announced it would move to an online-only model until it is safe to return to the classroom. 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 is moving forward with a plan that blends in-person classes and distance learning. Amphi School District announced last week 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.

In testing news: Pima County has launched a new testing site at Kino Event Center. After the registration portal opened, this week's slots filled up in 10 minutes, according to a memo from Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. The testing and lab costs are estimated to reach $30 million to $40 million, which will come out of the county's portion of the federal CARES Act.

Huckelberry noted that while Ducey announced last week that he would expend testing in the Phoenix area, the Governor's Office has not made any plans to support further testing in Pima County.

Pima County announced last 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.

Finally, if you'd like a mask, the City of Tucson will give away roughly 56,000 washable ear-loop cloth masks this Saturday, July 18, in six locations across the city.

The drive-thru mask giveaway will have a location in each of the city's six wards with about 8,000 masks available at each location. Individuals and families can drive up to the site and pick up as many masks as they need, while supplies last. You can also walk up or ride your bike through the line.

This event is strictly for distributing masks and is not a COVID-19 testing site. Individuals and families can go to any of the following locations between 7 and 10 a.m. this Saturday to pick up masks.

Ward 1: Mission Manor Park, Main Parking Lot, 5900 S. 12th Ave.
Ward 2: Udall Recreation Center, Main Parking Lot, 7200 E. Tanque Verde Road
Ward 3: Donna Liggins Recreation Center, Main Parking Lot, 2160 N. Sixth Ave.
Ward 4: Lincoln Park, Main Parking Lot, 4325 S. Pantano Road
Ward 5: El Pueblo Recreation Center, Main Parking Lot, 101 W. Irvington Road
Ward 6: Ward 6 Council Office, 3202 E. First St.

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