Friday, December 18, 2020

Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Friday, Dec. 18: 7600+ New Cases, 142 New Deaths Reported Today; Hospitals at or Near Capacity; Pima County Under Curfew; The Vaccine Is Here

Posted By on Fri, Dec 18, 2020 at 9:44 AM

With more than 7,600 new cases reported today, the number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases topped 442,000 as of Friday, Dec. 18, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County, which reported 1,449 new cases today, has seen 57,250 of the state’s 442,671 confirmed cases.

With 142 new deaths reported today, a total of 7,819 Arizonans had died after contracting COVID-19, including 875 deaths in Pima County, according to the Dec. 18 report.

The number of hospitalized COVID cases statewide continues to soar as the virus has begun to spread more rapidly, putting stress on Arizona’s hospitals and surpassing July peaks. ADHS reported that as of Dec. 17, 3,931 COVID patients were hospitalized in the state, setting a new record. The previous peak of 3,517 hospitalized COVID patients was set on July 13; that number hit a subsequent low of 468 on Sept. 27.

click to enlarge Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Friday, Dec. 18: 7600+ New Cases, 142 New Deaths Reported Today; Hospitals at or Near Capacity; Pima County Under Curfew; The Vaccine Is Here
As COVID spreads, more people are hospitalized every day in Arizona.

A total of 2,027 people visited emergency rooms on Dec. 17 with COVID symptoms. That number, which hit a new record of 2,166 last week, had previously peaked at 2,008 on July 7; it hit a subsequent low of 653 on Sept. 28.

A total of 915 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Dec. 17. The number of COVID patients in ICUs peaked at 970 on July 13 and hit a subsequent low of 114 on Sept. 22.

Pima County under curfew

Pima County's voluntary curfew has now become mandatory.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday to instate a mandatory 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew throughout the county in an attempt to combat Southern Arizona's rising number of coronavirus cases.

Supervisor Steve Christy and outgoing Supervisor Ally Miller, who attended her last board meeting this week, voted against the proposal.

Penalties for a nonessential business found violating curfew range from having their business permit suspended or revoked.

The mandatory curfew will stay in place until coronavirus infection rates drop below 100 per 100,000 people, according to county officials.

The transmission rate in Pima County was 357 people per 100,000 people in the two-week period ending Nov. 29, but Pima County Health Department Director Dr. Theresa Cullen expects that number to be significantly higher for the period ending Dec. 13.

The mandatory curfew comes as through the first two weeks of December, COVID-19 cases in the county reached 13,589—2,554 more cases than reported in all of November. Last week saw 70 coronavirus deaths, according to a memorandum from County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.

While businesses will now face losing their operating permits if they don't comply with the curfew, it "carries no penalty associated with the individual, as it would be difficult to enforce a curfew against individuals without the cooperation of law enforcement," Huckelberry writes in the memo.

More details here.

Pima County healthcare workers receive vaccine

Banner University Medical Center and Tucson Medical Center began the first round of COVID-19 vaccinations in Pima County. While a small number of test vaccinations were injected earlier this week, today marks the official beginning of the Pima County Health Department’s three-phase plan, beginning with frontline workers.

At Banner University’s northside campus, Iris Delfakis, a nurse at the University of Arizona’s Cancer Center, volunteered to receive the first injection.

“I’m all for it,” Delfakis said. “I know there are some against the vaccine, but I think everyone should get it. We’ve never seen something like COVID in our lifetimes.”

According to Rebecca Ruiz-McGill, information specialist for Banner UMC, the medical center needs to “walk before we run,” with vaccine administrations. Because COVID-19 testing involves similar logistics, Banner expects its vaccine process to be in full order within a week or two. By the end of the month, they expect to be administering more than 100 vaccines per day.

Banner’s vaccine station was in its parking garage and saw several hospital staff in its first hour. Among the staff was Dr. Melissa Zukowski, who works in Banner's Department of Emergency Medicine and was prioritized for vaccination because she works in a COVID unit. Those who receive their vaccine will need to receive a second booster injection three weeks after their first.

“I’m emotional with joy. It’s been such a long time we’ve waited for this vaccine,” said Zukowski, who received the injection while holding her daughter’s hand. “To the skeptics who still don’t think this is real – it’s very real. We’ve been going non-stop. People are sick, and people are dying . . . There’s a long road ahead, but this is a glimmer of light.”

The vaccine prioritization plan includes three phases with the most high-risk individuals receiving the vaccine first, according to county officials.

Phase one of vaccine implementation is divided into three groups: 1A, 1B and 1C. Group 1A will begin receiving vaccines this week.

Group 1B, which includes teachers, law enforcement and other essential service workers, are expected to receive vaccines by March.

Group 1C includes adults older than 65 and those with high-risk medical conditions, which contains nearly 70% of the population and is expected to receive vaccinations by late spring or early summer.

The Pfizer vaccine is given in two doses 21 days apart. The health department said if the second dose is not received on its scheduled time, the first dose will still be valid and the recipient is still fully protected.

More details here.

Pima County Health Director tests positive for COVID

Pima County Health Department Director Dr. Theresa Cullen has tested positive for COVID-19, part of an apparent outbreak within the department.

“This just goes to prove that when there is substantial community spread of the virus like we’re experiencing now throughout the county, the virus can get into your homes and places of work any number of ways no matter how vigilant you are being with your precautions,” said County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia in a press release earlier this week.

County investigators are currently working on contact tracing for the source of the outbreak. However, PCHD admits contact tracing will be difficult after dozens of people, many of whom were not wearing masks, entered their building on Dec. 10 to protest recent COVID-19 protection and enforcement actions by the health department.

Cullen is one of more than 300 of the nearly 7,000 Pima County employees who’ve tested positive for coronavirus since February, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry shared with the Board of Supervisors this week. Nearly 60 county employees tested positive in the last two weeks alone, the release says.

“The effects of this outbreak at the Health Department will be a significant challenge but it is one we are able to handle,” Garcia said in a prepared statement. “We have redundant capacity in staffing and facilities, and this will not affect our ability to continue to our mission protecting public health or the Health Department’s vital role in the struggle to control and end the spread of COVID-19 in Pima County.”

More details here.

Hospitals are reaching capacity; health officials urge people to avoid in-person socializing over holidays

The Pima County Health Department discussed the critical nature of COVID-19 throughout the county at a press conference on Friday, Dec. 10, after it issued a joint letter signed by 26 representatives from the health department, hospitals and fire districts warning residents of disastrous consequences if the spread of the virus continues at its current rate.

Hospitals across the county have less than 2% of their ICU beds available. At the start of last weekend, they had only seven open ICU beds, Pima County Health Director Dr.
Theresa Cullen shared at the press conference.

Pima County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia said the county’s experiencing “very significant” numbers of deaths similar to those seen in the July surge in cases. In terms of hospitalizations, numbers have far surpassed levels seen in the summer peak.

Judy Rich, the president and CEO of Tucson Medical Center, said on the outside, the hospital shows serene Christmas lights and often barren parking lots. The parked cars are diminishing as visitors aren’t allowed to visit their sick loved ones, and behind the glowing lights, the hospital’s staff is fighting an unprecedented number of cases while facing high levels of burnout.

“The staff are tired, and they are giving everything that they have. It is imperative that we take this seriously. This is a serious disaster that is invisible to many,” Rich said. “But when it hits you, when it becomes personal, you'll understand it differently. I would just ask you to project to that and take the steps that you need to to stay safe and help our community get through this.”

The Chief Medical Officer of Banner University Medicine, Dr. Gordon Carr, said although the hospitals he oversees are using all available resources to handle the influx of cases, they are also struggling.

“We are bringing in more staff and expanding our physical capacity. We are redeploying planning staff to assist in the hardest-hit areas. We are doing everything we can to provide essential medical services,” Carr said. “Unfortunately, however, we are facing ongoing, uncontrolled spread of the virus in our community. If we are not able to slow the spread soon, the strain on the healthcare system could become too great. At this critical moment, public health interventions have never been more important.”

Even as Christmas and New Year's Eve approach, the health department is asking everyone to stay home and avoid gatherings.

"We know that’s a lot to ask this time of year, but the holidays will come again; sit this one out. Use the internet and telephones to communicate with family and friends," the joint letter from the health department and healthcare officials said.

More details here.

Get tested: Pima County has 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 these or other pop-up sites at

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

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

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