The number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases topped 200,000 as of Friday, Aug. 28, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Pima County had seen 21,072 of the state’s 200,658 confirmed cases.
With 49 new deaths reported today, a total of 4,978 Arizonans had died after contracting COVID-19, according to the Aug. 28 report.
The number of hospitalized COVID cases continues to decline. ADHS reported that as of Aug. 27, 809 COVID patients were hospitalized in the state, the lowest that number has been since May 22, when 784 people were hospitalized. That number peaked at 3,517 on July 13.
A total of 922 people visited ERs on Aug. 27 with COVID symptoms. That number peaked at 2,008 on July 7 and has bounced between 900 and 1,100 for most of August.
A total of 272 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Aug. 27. That number has been cut in half since the beginning of August. The number in ICUs peaked at 970 on July 13.
In Pima County, the week-by-week counting of cases peaked the week ending July 4 with 2,398 cases, according to an Aug. 26 report from the Pima County Health Department. Those numbers have dropped with Pima County requiring the wearing of masks in public but they have bumped upward recent weeks, with 804 cases in the week ending Aug. 8 and 930 cases in the week ending Aug. 15. (Not all recent cases may have been reported.)
Deaths in Pima County are down from a peak of 54 in the week ending July 4 to 35 for the week ending Aug. 8 and 15 for the week ending Aug. 15.
Hospitalization peaked the week ending July 18 with 247 COVID patients admitted to Pima County hospitals. For the week ending Aug. 15, 63 COVID patients were admitted to Pima County hospitals.
State hits benchmark allowing shuttered biz to reopen
Arizona reached certain benchmarks allowing for the reopening of Indoor gyms, movie theaters, bars serving food, water parks and tubing operations in Pima and Maricopa counties.
State metrics reached the “moderate” COVID-19 transmission category yesterday.
Affected business owners received an email from the Arizona Department of Health Services earlier this week giving them the green light to return to business once the department's business dashboard updates in the morning.
"ADHS anticipates that Maricopa, Pima, and Pinal Counties will be in the moderate transmission category when the ADHS business dashboard updates on Thursday,” the ADHS email reads. “Therefore, on Thursday, August 27, 2020, you will likely be eligible to reopen if you attest to comply with all the requirements for your business type."
Owners will no longer have to complete an ADHS application to reopen. However, they will need to fill out and submit an attestation form with the department prior to reopening. After the form is submitted, owners are back in business as long as they follow the state's new requirements.
In her daily blog, ADHS Director Cara Christ praised Arizonans for working together to slow the virus' spread since mid-July. However, she warned business owners and Arizonans alike to stay vigilant, keep wearing masks and staying at home if sick to help keep the state's metrics trending downward.
Christ did have a warning for business owners who fail to follow the new requirements.
"Businesses not complying with the required mitigation measures will be subject to strict enforcement," Christ wrote. "The Department will continue to partner with local authorities, county health departments, and other state agencies to ensure proper compliance and protect the health and safety of customers and employees."
Harkins Theater reopening in Marana
With the green light from the state, Harkins Theaters plans to reopen all of their Arizona locations with new safety and sanitation protocols this Friday, Aug. 28. For their celebratory opening weekend, Harkins will be screening new films like Marvel's The New Mutants
with Russell Crowe, as well as a special 10th anniversary screening of Inception.
New precautions require all customers and staff to wear masks. If you do not have a mask, one will be provided by the theatre. There will also be social distancing required through the facilities, staggered showtimes to reduce the number of customers in the lobby, sanitizer stations, air filtration systems and reserved seating in all theatres.
Tucson's Harkins Theatres are located at 5755 W. Arizona Pavilions Drive and 5455 S. Calle Santa Cruz.
Huckleberry: Confusion and mixed messages from state and feds
Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry expressed concern about mixed messages coming from the state and federal government regarding the reopening of gyms, movie theaters and other businesses closed by Ducey’s executive order.
In a memo entitled “COVID Confusion and Mixed Messages,”
Huckleberry pointed out that the White House Coronavirus Task Force had issued a report on Sunday, Aug. 23, that recommended mitigation efforts be increased in Tucson “to decrease continued community spread’; testing efforts be scaled up, “especially in Tucson”; and bar closures should continue and gyms should not reopen in Tucson.
Huckleberry said the state’s guidance to allow businesses to reopen “directly contradicts the (White House Coronavirus Task Force) guidance.”
Huckleberry also took issue with the recent CDC guidance that individuals who don’t show symptoms should not be tested for coronavirus even if they have been exposed to someone who is COVID-positive.
Earlier in the week, Huckleberry released a memo warning the fight against COVID was far from over.
“In looking at the long view over the months since the pandemic started, we are not yet seeing any significant, sustainable decline in infections or deaths,” Huckelberry wrote in an Aug. 24 memo. “This data, as reported by the Arizona Department of Health Services, will and has varied significantly from day to day. This daily fluctuation should not and cannot be interpreted as a trend.”
In order to control the virus, Huckelberry said the county needs to focus on testing, contact tracing, and surveillance testing, which involves continually retesting those who have higher risks of being exposed to COVID-19, such as healthcare workers and first responders. He suggests surveillance testing be done through antigen tests, which are less expensive and produces rapid results.
More on Huckelberry’s memo here.
UA pauses reentry plan
The University of Arizona administration announced they will delay their staged reopening plan just one day after the fall semester began on Aug. 24.
In an Aug. 25 email to faculty, students and staff, UA Provost Liesl Folks said the administration decided to continue Stage 1 of the reopening (essential in-person classes only) during the second week of instruction, which begins Monday, Aug. 31.
Stage 2 was originally set to begin on Aug. 31 and would have allowed small classes to resume in person, bringing another 9,000 people to campus. But Folks said they’ve decided to hold off on Stage 2 for the time being, after consulting with local public health officials.
“Based on the test data and discussions with our campus community, we have decided to continue in Stage 1 during Week 2,” Folks said in her letter. “While nearly all the data we have today shows improving trends for limiting the spread of the coronavirus in Arizona, we feel that we should continue in Phase 1 to allow more time for public health data to be collected and analyzed before we move to instruction to Stage 2: Essential In-Person / Outdoor / Small In-Person courses.”
Out of more than 9,000 antigen tests performed in the university community between July 31 and Aug. 25, the UA has uncovered 37 positive COVID-19 cases. On Aug. 25 alone, 342 antigen tests were conducted and six positive COVID-19 results were identified.
The university is using far more antigen tests—which are less expensive and produce rapid results—than traditional PCR tests, which can take 48 hours or longer to produce results. There has been controversy over the effectiveness of antigen testing. During the same time period, only 37 PCR tests were performed and reported no positive COVID-19 results.
For more information, visit covid19.arizona.edu/updates.
Get tested: Pima County has several testing centers
Pima County has three free testing centers with easy-to-schedule appointments—often with same-day availability—and you get results in less than 72 hours.
Centers offering a nasal swab are at the Kino Event Center, 2805 E. Ajo Way, and the Udall Center, 7200 E. Tanque Verde Road. The center at the northside Ellie Towne Flowing Wells Community Center, 1660 W. Ruthrauff Road, involves a saliva test designed by ASU.
Schedule an appointment at pima.gov/covid19testing.
The centers are also tied into Pima County’s developing contact tracing operation, which aims to be able to identify potential clusters and warn people if they have been in contact with someone who is COVID-positive.
If you’re interested in a test to determine if you’ve already had COVID-19, the UA has expanded a free COVID-19 antibody testing program to include 15 new categories of essential workers considered at high risk for exposure. The antibody test, developed by researchers at UA Health Sciences, determines who has been exposed to and developed an immune response against COVID-19.
In addition to healthcare workers and first responders, the test program is now open to educators, childcare workers, agriculture, grocery and foodservice workers, hospitality employees, solid-waste collection workers, transportation services workers and members of the National Guard. More information and registration for the test is available at covid19antibodytesting.arizona.edu.
Arizonans allowed to return to the tri-state area
Arizonans will no longer have to quarantine for two weeks when visiting New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. With Arizona’s numbers on the decline, the three states lifted their order.
City of Tucson offering rental assistance, grants for those affected by pandemic
The City of Tucson has allocated $4.5 million of federal CARES Act funding for an emergency rent and utility assistance program available to city residents.
To be eligible for the financial assistance, participating renters must have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the household income cannot exceed $68,400.
Renters are encouraged to apply as soon as possible. Visit www.tucsonaz.gov/hcd/rent-help to complete an application. If you need assistance or are unable to complete the application online, call (520) 837-5364 or email email@example.com.
The city is also setting aside $3 million of CARES Act funding to be distributed to local workers and families that have been negatively impacted by the crisis.
The grant program, named the “We Are One | Somos Unos Resiliency Fund” will focus on individuals and households that have not received any state or federal COVID-19 relief money and whose income does not reach Pima County’s self-sufficiency standard.
The self-sufficiency standard measures how much money an individual or family needs to earn to be able to meet their basic needs with no public or private financial assistance. In 2018, the self-sufficiency standard for a single adult in Pima County was $9.66 per hour or $1,700 per month. For a household with two adults and two young children, the standard was $13.22 per hour for both adults, or $4,711 per month.
The city is partnering with the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona, who will administer the grants. Applications are due by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 9.
In addition, the city’s We Are One | Somos Unos Resiliency Fund recently received a $1.25 million donation to provide financial relief for Tucson’s immigrant communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The donations, from the Open Society Foundations and an anonymous donor, will provide funds to immigrants living in the City of Tucson and the City of South Tucson. These are people who have been significantly impacted by COVID-19 but are often excluded from federal aid.
The $1.25 million will be disbursed through grants to those who were not eligible to receive federal CARES Act stimulus checks earlier this year, and who face additional barriers to financial assistance programs, according to a city press release.
The Sunnyside Foundation has been designated as the administrator of the funds, and details on how to receive aid will be shared on Sept. 1 at www.sunnysidefoundation.org.
“Entire families in our community are being evicted from their homes, losing jobs, and having to decide between buying groceries or paying utility bills,” said Sunnyside Foundation Executive Director Kerri Lopez-Howell in a press release. “We are honored to steward these resources and eager to work alongside grassroots community leaders, organizers, and advocates to ensure that those most impacted receive these dollars.”
Rent assistance available for biz closed by Ducey’s executive order
Gov. Doug Ducey's administration and the Local First Arizona Foundation will accept applications for a new grant program that aims to provide $10 million in financial assistance to small businesses across the state.
The Arizona Small Business Rent and Mortgage Relief Grant program will focus on helping local businesses that had to close their operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor’s office is partnering with the foundation in order to facilitate the disbursements.
“The partnership leverages the grantmaking experience and small business expertise of Local First Arizona Foundation, which has already distributed over $2 million in grant funds to small businesses across the state of Arizona, to continue their work of putting small businesses on a path for recovery,” said Local First Communications Manager Maria Lopez in a press release.
The grants will provide up to two months of rent or mortgage payments for small businesses headquartered in Arizona that were directly impacted by the governor’s Executive Order 2020-43, which shuttered gyms, fitness centers, bars, nightclubs, indoor movie theatres, water parks and tubing operators in response to the spread of COVID-19 throughout the state.
Qualifying businesses can receive up to $25,000, and the money will be prioritized for businesses that are struggling the most to meet their financial obligations and do not have access to other financial support, the release states.
In order to be eligible for this grant program, businesses must have been operating in Arizona prior to Jan. 1, 2020; must be directly impacted by the executive order; must be renting or leasing a physical location outside the owner’s personal residence and must be employing fewer than 50 workers.
Each business owner can only apply for one grant. In order to apply, owners are encouraged to provide rent or mortgage statements for June through October, income source information, attestation of cash on hand and/or attestation of good standing with the Arizona Department of Revenue.
The grant program will give preference to businesses that are the primary or sole source of income for its owners.
The application process opened this morning. Interested individuals can fill out an application at localfirstaz.com/azsmallbizrent
—with additional reporting from Kathleen B. Kunz, Austin Counts, Jeff Gardner and Tara Foulkrod