Friday, October 30, 2020

Southern AZ COVID-19 AM roundup for Friday, Oct. 30: More Than 1500 New Cases Today; Total AZ Cases Top 244K; Ducey Says “Storm Ahead” but Not Planning New Restrictions; TUSD Returning to Classroom; Gem Show Canceled; Other News of the Week

Posted By on Fri, Oct 30, 2020 at 10:02 AM

With 1,565 new cases reported today, the number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases topped 244,000 as of Friday, Oct. 30, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County had seen 28,296 of the state’s 244,045 confirmed cases.

With 16 new deaths reported yesterday, a total of 5,934 Arizonans had died after contracting COVID-19, including 639 deaths in Pima County, according to the Oct. 30 report.

The number of hospitalized COVID cases has declined from July peaks but has ticked upward in recent weeks as the virus has begun to spread more rapidly. ADHS reported that as of Oct. 29, 900 COVID patients were hospitalized in the state. That number peaked with 3,517 hospitalized COVID patients on July 13; it hit a subsequent low of 468 on Sept. 27.

A total of 898 people visited emergency rooms on Oct. 29 with COVID symptoms. That number peaked at 2,008 on July 7; it hit a subsequent low of 653 on Sept. 28.

A total of 188 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Oct. 29. The number of COVID patients in ICUs peaked at 970 on July 13 and hit a subsequent low of 114 on Sept. 22.

On a week-by-week basis in Pima County, the number of positive COVID tests peaked the week ending July 4 with 2,452 cases, according to an Oct. 29 report from the Pima County Health Department.

Pima County saw a big bump in cases following the return of UA students, followed by a steady decline and then a big bump upward. For the week ending Sept. 19, 1,230 cases were reported; for the week ending Sept. 26, 615 cases were reported; for the week ending Oct. 3, 533 cases were reported; for the week ending Oct. 10, 465 cases were reported; for the week ending Oct. 17, 512 cases were reported; and for the week ending Oct. 24, 829 cases were reported.

Deaths in Pima County are down from a peak of 54 in the week ending July 4 to 10 in the week ending Sept. 5, one in the week ending Sept. 12, three in the week ending Sept. 19, four in the week ending Sept. 26, four in the week ending Oct. 3, two in the week ending Oct 10, and zero in the subsequent weeks.

Hospitalization peaked the week ending July 18 with 221 COVID patients admitted to Pima County hospitals, but it has been on the rise in recent weeks. In the week ending Sept. 19, 17 patients were admitted; in the week ending Sept. 26, 15 people were admitted; in the week ending Oct. 3, 20 patients were admitted; in the week ending Oct. 10, 27 people were admitted; in the week ending Oct. 17, 35 people were admitted; and in the week ending Oct. 24, 28 people were admitted. (Recent weeks are subject to revision.)

Ducey: A “storm ahead” with COVID spread

Gov. Doug Ducey and Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ provided a COVID-19 update at a press conference yesterday amid rising cases throughout the state.

“The recent increase in cases has resulted in an increase in the COVID-19 rates in many counties,” Christ said at the press conference. “At the Arizona Department of Health Services, we remain on high alert. We’ve worked to contain COVID-19 from all angles, and we continue to take further action in light of recent increases.”

Although Ducey acknowledged Arizona’s rising coronavirus numbers, he said in comparison to other states, “we’re not in that zone that we’re seeing in other places.”

“We do see this rising in different parts of the country, our expectation in Arizona has been that cases would continue to go up,” he said.

The governor recognized that the state’s current R naught number, which indicates how contagious a virus is, is currently at 1.16, which means coronavirus is spreading as fast as it did in June.

“Arizona did one of the best jobs in the nation when our time of challenge did come of driving it beneath one, but as we head into influenza season it becomes more challenging,” Ducey said.

Although the current rise in COVID-19 cases is alarming, Ducey said there’s even more to come.

“We know that there is a storm ahead of us, yet it’s not here,” Ducey said. “But those simple guidelines of wearing a mask, washing our hands, being socially distanced and using common sense have served us very well to date.”

However, the governor doesn’t plan on imposing new safety restrictions to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

“The mitigation that we’ve put out, the plan we put into effect remains in effect. I am proud that Arizona is open, that our economy is open, that our educational institutions are open and our tourist destinations are open,” Ducey said. “While at the same time, we do have mitigation steps in place that have allowed us to protect lives while protecting livelihoods, and we’re gonna continue to do that.”

Given the likelihood of travel and large gatherings, Christ says she anticipates seeing a spike 10-14 days after Thanksgiving that could potentially increase over the next 4-6 weeks.

In preparation for the holiday season, she said ADHS will be putting out guidance, working on mitigation strategies and making sure hospitals have enough resources, although she said the biggest barrier for hospitals is not “the beds, but could be the staffing.”

Christ urged citizens to continue mitigation tactics such as wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing and getting an influenza shot.

“We understand that this has been a difficult year, and many have grown tired of the mitigation strategies. But now is not the time to let up,” she said.

When asked about the example he’s setting for Arizonans after repeatedly attending public events sans-mask, including at a Trump rally at the Prescott Regional Airport Oct. 19 and as he spoke at today’s press conference, Ducey called upon the First Amendment.

“We’ve been consistent the entire time through the pandemic to protect people’s rights under the Constitution,” Ducey said. “There are five days left in the election cycle and we’ll continue to protect people’s rights.”

TUSD reopening for in-person classes Nov. 12

Tucson Unified School District’s governing board voted to return to school in a hybrid model in a 3-2 vote Tuesday night.

Board members Kristel Foster, Bruce Burke and Leila Counts voted to approve the reopening date, and members Adelita Grijalva and Rachael Sedgwick opposed.

The board voted to approve the hybrid learning model on Oct. 6 but delayed voting on when to implement it until Tuesday's special meeting.

Pima County Public Health Director Theresa Cullen discussed the county health department’s three specific guidelines for opening in a hybrid model: a two-week decline in COVID-19 cases, two weeks of percent positivity below 7 percent and hospital visits for COVID-19 illness below 10 percent. As of Oct. 22, Pima County had met all three benchmarks.

“We believe that as a county, it is okay for school districts to go to a hybrid learning model based on the current statistics,” Cullen said.

She noted the health department recommends the district take strict mitigation tactics including increased sanitation, social distancing and universal mask-wearing, as well as reporting COVID-19 cases to the health department and complying with isolation and quarantine guidelines.

The governing board unanimously approved a second motion to authorize “the Superintendent to initiate school closures…if such closures are recommended by the Pima County Health Department and deemed necessary to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Pima County.”

Coronavirus hits local schools

As local school districts allow students to return to campus in hybrid learning models, they’re reporting positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff, resulting in some students and staff members being asked to quarantine themselves if they were in contact with people who have tested positive.

As of Monday, Marana Unified School District has reported five positive COVID-19 cases with 24 students and staff in quarantine since they reopened in a hybrid model Oct. 19, according to Alli Benjamin, the district’s public relations and community engagement director.

At Mountain View High School, four students tested positive for coronavirus, causing 23 students and employees who were potentially exposed to quarantine. One case was confirmed yesterday, and the other three on Oct. 22, 23 and 24, according to Benjamin.

One student was reported as testing positive at Marana Middle School on Oct. 21, but no potential contacts were established, according to Benjamin.

As of Friday, the Amphitheater Unified School District has reported five positive coronavirus cases resulting in 35 students and staff members quarantining, according to Communications Director Michelle Valenzuela.

Amphitheater reopened in a hybrid model on Oct. 12, and its latest positive COVID-19 case was reported at Walker Elementary School on Friday. One student tested positive, causing two employees to quarantine.

On Oct. 20, one student at La Cima Middle School reported a positive coronavirus test. Although no close contacts to the person were discovered inside the school, three La Clima students who were with the student over the weekend were asked to quarantine themselves.

One student at Canyon del Oro High School reported a positive test Oct. 19, causing 13 students who may have been in contact with the person to self-quarantine.

The week prior, 13 students and one staff member at Ironwood Ridge High School had to quarantine after a student reported a positive test on Oct. 16.

At Mesa Verde Elementary, one staff member reported a positive case on Oct. 14, but no other employees or students were identified as close contacts to require quarantining.

The 10,100 Amphitheater students who opted for hybrid classes attend two days a week and spend the other three learning remotely. About 1,400 students chose to continue attending school completely online.

Major gem show cancels 2021 event

The Tucson Gem & Mineral Society announced Tuesday that the 2021 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show is canceled. While the overall Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase season that takes over Tucson from February to March is home to numerous showcases and exhibits, the Tucson Gem & Mineral Society's Gem and Mineral Show is the largest and the show that launched it all.

"COVID-19-related risks clearly make it impossible for TGMS to put on anything more than a shadow of our accustomed vibrant event," representatives of the Tucson Gem & Mineral Society announced in a prepared statement. "Restrictive COVID-19 travel policies mean many of our major domestic, and most of our international museum exhibitors and friends either won't or can't travel here. This effectively eliminates both our exhibits and educational programs."

However, the society has announced that they intend to use this time to plan for a "blockbuster" 2022 show.

"Most importantly, TGMS does not want to be responsible for a single COVID-19 fatality or serious illness. Our show is run by volunteers and many of us are in high-risk demographics...as are many of our participants and attendees," the statement continued. "Consulting closely with the Pima County Health Department, the Mayor and City Manager’s offices and the good folks who run the [Tucson Convention Center], it is clear that applying the mandated COVID-19 protocols to reduce risk would mean drastically restricted attendance and curtailment of many of our programs."

In 2018, the total Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase brought an estimated economic impact of $120 million to the City of Tucson.

Chef Janos Wilder won’t reopen famed restaurant DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails

In more bad news in the restaurant sector, Chef Janos Wilder has announced that DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails is ending its 10-year run, and will not reopen its doors. DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails was known for serving high-quality dishes inspired by cuisines from around the world, as well as Sonoran flavors. After COVID closures, the restaurant reopened this summer, but re-closed after only a few weeks, and will stay that way.

“This is unmistakably a tremendously hard time for small businesses, especially restaurants the world over,” Wilder said in a prepared statement. “For me personally it has also been an opportunity to take stock of where I am in my career and ask myself, is the day to day of running a restaurant really the best use of my time now?”

After more than 50 years of working as a professional chef, Wilder announced he will use this time to focus on his family.

In addition, Wilder's Carriage House will continue its catering and group event business. Wilder will produce and present a series of online cooking classes: "Cooking in the Time of Covid" which will feature easy to prepare meals at home.

"These last 10 years downtown have seen a rebirth of our urban core," Wilder said. "The pandemic is a setback and my heart aches for so many that are struggling to keep their doors open. Even in these challenging times, I am constantly amazed and inspired by the innovation and creativity of the next generation. Downtown Tucson will continue to thrive in the years to come. Like the desert we live in, we are a resilient community. I am so grateful for all this city has given me and my family and I am eager to continue to serve the community moving forward.”

Get tested: Pima County offers free COVID testing, UA offering antibody testing

The Pima County Health Department has four free testing centers around town with easy-to-schedule appointments—often with same-day availability—with results in 24 to 72 hours.

You’ll have a nasal swab test at the Kino Event Center (2805 E. Ajo Way) the Udall Center (7200 E. Tanque Verde Road) and downtown (88 E. Broadway). 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 University of Arizona’s antibody testing has been opened to all Arizonans as the state attempts to get a handle on how many people have been exposed to COVID-19 but were asymptomatic or otherwise did not get a test while they were ill.

To sign up for testing, visit https://covid19antibodytesting.arizona.edu/home.

—with additional reporting from Nicole Ludden, Austin Counts, Jeff Gardner and Mike Truelsen

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