Thursday, December 3, 2020

Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Thursday, Dec. 3: 5400 new cases; AZ cases top 346K; 82 new deaths; Ducey says no new restrictions oncoming

Posted By on Thu, Dec 3, 2020 at 9:49 AM

With more than 5,400 new cases reported today, the number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases topped 346,000 as of Thursday, Dec. 3, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County, which reported 569 new cases today, has seen 41,882 of the state’s 346,421 confirmed cases.

With 82 new deaths reported yesterday, a total of 6,821 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 717 deaths in Pima County, according to the Dec. 3 report.

The number of hospitalized COVID cases statewide continues to climb upward as the virus has begun to spread more rapidly, putting stress on Arizona’s hospitals. ADHS reported that as of Dec. 1, 2,743 COVID patients were hospitalized in the state, the highest that number has been since July 24 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 1,774 people visited emergency rooms on Dec. 2 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 642 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Dec. 2, the highest that number has been since Aug. 1. The number of COVID patients in ICUs peaked at 970 on July 13 and hit a subsequent low of 114 on Sept. 22.

Judy Rich, president and CEO of Tucson Medical Center, told the Tucson City Council this week that local hospitals are near or at capacity.

 “I believe stricter measures, like the ones we used earlier this year, are the only path to avert the impending crisis,” Rich told the council. “I recognize that the City might not have the legal authority to mandate such actions, but it should be the position of the City to advocate to state leadership that it is required to prevent unnecessary loss of life and illness.”

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 a Nov. 25 report from the Pima County Health Department. (Numbers in this report are subject to revision.)

Pima County is seeing a dramatic rise in cases in recent weeks. For the week ending Oct. 31, 1,348 cases were reported; for the week ending Nov. 7, 2,119 cases were reported; and for the week ending Nov. 14, 2,578 cases were reported; for the week ending Nov. 21, 3,313 cases were reported.

COVID-related deaths in Pima County are down from a peak of 54 in the week ending July 4 but are on the rise. There were three deaths in the week ending Oct 10, one in week ending Oct. 17, six in the week ending Oct. 24; 10 in the week ending Oct. 31 and five in the week ending Nov. 7.

Hospitalization admission peaked the week ending July 18 with 221 COVID patients admitted to Pima County hospitals, but those numbers have been on the rise in recent weeks. In the week ending Oct. 31, 66 people were admitted; in the week ending Nov. 7, 90 people were admitted; in the week ending Nov. 14, 127 people were admitted; and in the week ending Nov. 21, 139 people were admitted.

 

Tucson City Council enacts 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew

Ducey says he doesn’t support stricter restrictions for Arizonans but provides more funding for hospitals, restaurants

Gov. Doug Ducey revealed a batch of new COVID-19 safety measures at a press conference yesterday as coronavirus cases rise to higher levels than Arizona saw in its summer surge.

Many healthcare workers and experts have called for increased statewide mitigation, but the measures Ducey introduced yesterday fail to completely meet their demands.

More than 155 Arizona physicians, health professionals and educators called upon the governor to instate a statewide mask mandate and prohibit indoor gatherings at venues where crowds of people can gather indoors in an appeal letter today.

Eight leaders from the state’s hospital systems wrote a letter to Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ Tuesday pleading for statewide COVID-19 mitigation policies such as a ban on indoor dining and establishing a curfew.

On Monday, experts from the COVID-19 modeling team at the University of Arizona called for a shelter-in-place order and mask mandate to slow the spread of the virus.

Instead, Ducey issued executive orders allowing restaurants to utilize public right-of-ways to expand outdoor dining while giving them $1.2 million to do so and requiring public events with over 50 attendees to enforce mitigation strategies.

The governor also implemented an executive order to ensure when a COVID-19 vaccine arrives, it will be free of charge to those who take it.

Ducey also announced an additional $60 million in funding to increase hospital staffing—an addition to the $25 million in funds for staffing announced Nov. 18, which Ducey said brought 300 additional health care workers into the state.

Ducey said the new influx of funds will provide funding for 500 nurses through January.

“It will ensure our hospitals can care for those who need it and that the existing staff in our hospitals are properly compensated for their dedication and commitment,” Ducey said. 

 

Arizona faces alarming COVID-19 numbers; Ducey criticizes Tucson’s curfew

At the press conference, Christ shared Arizona has reported 340,979 COVID-19 cases and 6,739 coronavirus deaths to date. Key metrics such as case counts, percent positivity and ICU and inpatient hospital bed usage are all trending upward.

Last week, the state had a coronavirus percent positivity of 15%, and Christ said this number is expected to increase this week. 

Despite the alarming metrics and calls from healthcare experts from across the state, Ducey declined to mandate masks statewide, and claimed, “Independent sources have Arizona’s mask usage rate at 91%.”

“There’s almost nowhere you can go in the state of Arizona and no part of our economy that you can participate in without wearing a mask,” the governor said.

Ducey made clear he is adamantly opposed to statewide shutdowns or stay-at-home orders.

“Some have called for additional mitigation measures, shutdowns of entire industries, and curfews on our citizens,” he said. “I believe we should instead focus on accountability and enforcing the rules we have in place now and taking a targeted approach to ensure we all participate in the safety precautions we know work.”

The governor criticized the curfew Tucson’s city council passed last night and refuted claims from Mayor Regina Romero that she hasn’t been able to communicate with the governor since March.

“I disagree with the [curfew], I don’t think it’s the right approach... We believe that if we continue the mitigation steps that we’ve laid out, and there will be enforcement around those mitigation steps, those would be the best things that we could do to continue to slow the spread,” Ducey said. “If mayor Romero wants to talk, she knows where to find me, and every time she’s reached out she gets a call back.” 

 

Arizona could receive COVID-19 vaccines by mid-December

Ducey called news of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines reporting 95% effectiveness “incredible news” and said Arizona will have access to the vaccines by mid to late December. 

According to Christ, the number of vaccines Arizona receives by the end of December could be in the “hundreds of thousands.”

The governor said he visited with insurance company leaders yesterday who agreed the vaccine should be free to those who need it. Today, Ducey issued an executive order ensuring the vaccine is free and said Christ will reveal the state’s complete vaccination plan later this week.

Ducey said teachers will be at the front of the list when the vaccine arrives.

“I’ve asked [Christ] to prioritize teachers as among the first individuals in the state who will receive the vaccine. We want our schools open and our teachers protected,” Ducey said. “Teachers are essential to our state, so under our plan, they will be prioritized along with our healthcare works, doctors, nurses, hospital staff, long-term care, and of course our most vulnerable, and critical law enforcement officers.”

Christ said Arizona will likely receive weekly allocations of vaccines based on the state’s population.

“We’ll be working with our county health departments to get that out...that first priority group, those healthcare workers and long term care facilities, we will be working with the healthcare systems to ensure they can get their employees vaccinated.”

Arizona’s health department director said the state will set up sites for essential workers to receive the vaccine.

“We will also be setting up sites, though they may be industry-specific, as we get into those essential workers,” Christ said. “So there will be locations where either people can go, or if the business is big enough, we may go to them and vaccinate them.”

The Pfizer vaccine has to be kept in temperatures of negative 70 degrees Celsius, while Moderna’s vaccine must be kept frozen at negative 20 degrees Celsius.

Christ said the federal government will directly ship Pfizer’s vaccines directly to their intended locations in rechargeable storage containers to maintain the temperature.

Moderna’s vaccine can be stored in regular refrigeration or freezer spaces and will arrive “a week or two” after Pfizer’s, according to Christ.

“Those will likely be the vaccines that will be prioritized for the rural areas since they don’t have such stringent temperature requirements,” she said.

Ducey said Arizonans won’t be mandated to take the vaccine but will be encouraged to do so through “a public service announcement” and “public education.”

“Much like masks, we want to see the maximum level of compliance,” he said. “These vaccinations are our road back to a normal life, a safe life where we are protected and our loved ones are protected.” 

Ducey issues executive order to aid restaurants

The governor announced an executive order allowing restaurants to extend their outdoor dining areas to public sidewalks and right-of-ways.

Ducey also announced a partnership with the Arizona Restaurant Association to create $1.2 million in funds “to help small Arizona-owned and operated businesses buy heaters, barriers, outdoor furniture and other supplies in order to move operations outside.”

“This allows our local restaurants to expand outdoor dining and create additional space for people to dine out safely while still following all the health and safety requirements,” he said. 

 

Executive order on public gatherings

Ducey also announced an executive order for local jurisdictions to announce public gatherings of more than 50 people and to post details of the event’s COVID-19 mitigation strategies on the jurisdiction’s website.

“These should include an agreement by the hosts that they will implement these mitigation strategies and that they will be enforced by the organizers and local law enforcement,” Ducey said.

Dr. Christ said the health department has responded to more than 2,800 unique complaints about establishments violating public health guidelines such as mask-wearing and social distancing, and that 90% of the cases have been resolved. 

Ducey announced a revised policy today that when a business receives two substantiated claims, it will be given a warning and the opportunity to comply. If the business does not comply, they will face closure.

Christ urged Arizonans to alert the state health department of issues of noncompliance at azhealth.gov/compliancecovid-19 or by calling the Arizona COVID-19 hotline at 1-844-542-8201.

“Our businesses have done a great job and it’s not right and it’s not fair to those that are playing by the rules for others to openly ignore them,” Ducey said. “The outliers are few and far between, but we need fairness and an even playing field.”

However, despite the requests of many medical workers across the state, Ducey will not impose a statewide lockdown. Instead, the financial security of the state is on the governor’s mind.

“I hear the very loud calls from folks yelling lockdowns, and I just don’t think it’s the right policy. I think that we have put aggressive mitigation out there, we know that we can slow the spread, but when you say the word lockdown, you’re talking about shutting down entire industries, closing classrooms, bankrupting small businesses,” Ducey said. “I don’t think the right answer is to throw hundreds of thousands out of work before the holidays to slow the spread, because I don’t think it will slow the spread.”

 

Get tested: Pima County opening new sites alongside existing spots for free COVID testing

Pima County offers a number of testing centers around town. 

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. 

In addition, the Pima County Health Department, Pima Community College and Arizona State University have partnered to create new drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites at three Pima Community College locations. At the drive-thru sites, COVID-19 testing will be offered through spit samples instead of nasal canal swabs. Each site will conduct testing from 9 a.m. to noon, and registration is required in advance. Only patients 5 years or older can be tested. 

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 Austin Counts, Jeff Gardner, Nicole Ludden and Mike Truelsen

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