The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Arizona climbed past 148,000 as of Tuesday, July 21, after the state reported 3,500 new cases this morning, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Pima County had seen 13,848 of the state's 148,683 confirmed cases.
A total of 2,918 people have died after contracting the virus, including 391 in Pima County.
Maricopa County had 98,988 of the state's cases.
Hospitals remain under pressure, although they report in slight decrease in the number of Arizonans hospitalized with COVID-19-related symptoms. The report shows that 3,041 COVID patients were hospitalized yesterday in the state, down from a peak of 3,517 on July 13 and the lowest number hospitalized since July 2, when 3,013 people were hospitalized.
A total of 1,203 people visited ERs yesterday with COVID symptoms. The number of ER visits hadn’t hadn’t dipped that low since June 29, when 1,077 people with COVID symptoms visited ERs. That number peaked at 2,008 on July 7.
A total of 865 COVID-19 patients were in ICU beds yesterday. That’s the lowest it’s been since July 8, when 861 COVID-19 patients were in ICU. The number in ICUs peaked at 970 on July 13.
AZ Dept of Health Services
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 complications has begun to drop but remains high.
Citing a drop in the total number of cases on a week-to-week basis, Gov. Doug Ducey said last week that mask-wearing and steps to reduce the interaction of people in large groups had resulted in some positive signs regarding the spread of the virus.
But Ducey warned the state still had a long road ahead in the fight against COVID-19.
"I want people to get their heads around this," Ducey said. "There's no end in sight today."
Figures from Pima County show that on a week-by-week basis, cases here may have also peaked in the week ending June 27, with new cases reaching 2,300 in that seven-day period. Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry noted that the two subsequent weeks could still be adjusted upwards, but during the week ending July 4, 2,092 cases were reported. However, Huckelberry noted that the week ending July 4, the county saw a peak of 37 deaths, up from 18 the previous week.
While coronavirus cases may be on a slight downward trend in the state, Ducey urged Arizonans to stay vigilant by staying at home and wearing masks while practicing social distancing when out in public to continue the fight against the virus.
"There will be no victory laps," said Ducey, who praised measures set by local authorities to require masks were helping to reduce spread, but once again stopped short of a statewide mandate.
Arizona Senate Democrats released a joint statement following Ducey's press conference urging him to enact a statewide mask mandate, implement more contact tracing and provide more PPE for hospitals and schools.
"We are disappointed again that the Governor refuses to take stronger actions to curb the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus," the lawmakers wrote. "More aggressive action is needed now to safely open schools in the future no matter what date is picked. Senate Democrats again urge the Governor to take swift and preventative action. Time is not an ally. Act now, Governor to curtail the spread. Lives, not just livelihoods, are at stake."
The looming question this week: Is it safe to reopen Arizona’s schools and universities next week? Ducey said at last week’s press conference that he was in conversations with school leaders and university presidents about the best way to move forward with the school year. Many school officials are anticipating an announcement this week from Ducey regarding a further delay in starting the school year.
While Arizona schools are tentatively scheduled to open on Aug. 17 (with some districts starting online programs sooner), Ducey said he would be meeting with Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman and other state educational stakeholders in hopes of providing more complete information on the gameplan for reopening schools.
“I know people want clarity around this and we’re going to provide clarity,” Ducey said. “I’m going to tell you our kids are going to be learning in the fall.”
Some public health experts say that community transmission is too widespread to safely open the schools as planned. Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, recently warned 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.
Other local school districts have announced a mix of online and in-person options but say they will be ready to go to online-only if Ducey delays the start of the school year once again.