Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Tuesday, Jan. 19: Arizona’s rate of transmission 'appallingly bad'; Pima County on track for worst month; vaccination rollout continues; cases top 685K; hospital pressure remains high

Posted By on Tue, Jan 19, 2021 at 9:09 AM

With more than 6,400 new cases reported today, the number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases topped 685,000 of Tuesday, Jan 19, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County, which reported 975 new cases today, has seen 91,740 of the state’s 685,699 confirmed cases.

A total of 11,266 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 1,422 deaths in Pima County, according to the Jan. 19 report.

The number of hospitalized COVID cases statewide has dropped slightly in recent days but still remains far above the peak levels of the summer’s first wave. ADHS reported that as of Jan. 18, 4,780 COVID patients were hospitalized in the state. The summer peak of 3,517 hospitalized COVID patients was set on July 13; that number hit a subsequent low of 468 on Sept. 27, or less than a tenth of the current count. 

A total of 1,839 people visited emergency rooms on Jan. 18 with COVID symptoms, down from the record high of 2,341 set on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. That number had previously peaked at 2,008 on July 7; it hit a subsequent low of 653 on Sept. 28.

A total of 1,105 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Jan. 18. The summer’s record number of patients in ICU beds was 970, set on July 13. The subsequent low was 114 on Sept. 22.

Pima County’s dire situation was laid out by Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry on Friday, Jan. 15. As of the midpoint of the month, the county had seen nearly 18,000 positive cases, putting it on track to exceed December’s record-setting total number of 29,663. 

With 329 deaths in the first 15 days of January, the county is also on pace to exceed the total number of deaths in December as well, Huckelberry told Pima County supervisors in a memo ahead of Tuesday’s board meeting, where the board will also discuss his future as county administrator.

“Clearly, there has been no substantial reduction in the COVID-19 infection rate,” Huckelberry wrote.

Huckelberry said last week saw some easing of pressure in county hospitals, with a 15 percent drop in COVID patients and a total of 633 COVID patients in local hospital beds. 

While the number of Intensive Care Unit beds in use had dropped by 6 percent, only 20 ICU beds, or 5 percent of total capacity, remained available as of Friday. A total of 216 COVID patients were in ICU beds (accounting for 60 percent of ICU beds). Nearly two-thirds of ventilators in use—63 percent—were by COVID patients.

Arizona continues to have the highest coronavirus transmission rate in the nation with an average of 117 cases per 100,000 of the population, according to the CDC.

“Arizona’s outbreak remains appallingly bad. A bit of good fortune (or preferably policy action) is needed to gain additional time to vaccinate Arizona’s most vulnerable citizens,” according to the most recent report by Dr. Joe Gerald, a UA professor who creates weekly coronavirus epidemiology reports based on Arizona Department of Health Services data. “Daily cases and fatalities could double, or perhaps quadruple, before declining under the weight of natural and/or vaccine-induced immunity later this winter.”

During the week ending Jan. 10, 8,274 Pima County residents were diagnosed with COVID-19, creating a new record for weekly case counts in the county and representing an 11% increase from the week prior, according to Gerald's report.

According to Gerald, throughout Arizona, the week ending Jan. 10 saw 60,283 new COVID-19 cases, a 7% increase from the week prior.

While the week of Dec. 20 still remains the state’s deadliest with 759 COVID-19 deaths, Gerald estimates this record will be broken in coming weeks as coronavirus deaths are on pace to exceed 700 a week “for the foreseeable future.”

Gerald reported that coronavirus test positivity declined 2% the week ending Jan. 10 from the previous week throughout Arizona.

“This indicates that viral transmission is now growing slower than testing capacity is increasing. Nevertheless, testing capacity remains woefully inadequate to the scale of the problem,” he wrote.

Pima County rolling out vaccinations

Since Pima County’s COVID-19 vaccine registration site went live Thursday morning, nearly 80,000 qualifying residents have registered. However, Pima County doesn’t have enough vaccines to administer to all registrants, said Pima County Communications Director Mark Evans.

Although demand for vaccines is outstripping the supply, Evans said more appointments will be added as the county receives its weekly vaccine allotment from the state.

Those in the priority 1B group—which includes individuals over 75, educators and protective service workers—can register at any time, but receiving an appointment depends on vaccine ability.

“People are able to register every single day. But it’s important to note that everybody who has registered, it doesn't mean they’re going to get an appointment that day, it’s going to take some time,” Evans said. “It’s essentially creating a line to get in.”

Those who qualify in the priority 1B group can register for a vaccine at www.pima.gov/covid19vaccineregistration or by calling 520-222-0119.

The county sends prioritized batches of registrations to their relative vaccine sites, but TMC and Banner’s registration sites work differently. TMC uploads registrations to its MyChart system, which notifies the registrant when an appointment is available, Evans said.

Banner registrants will make an appointment directly on the website if one is available based on the registrant’s priority group.

“The only way with Banner is you just have to keep going back in and checking strategically to see if there are appointments,” Evans said. “We are making sure there are appointments available every day because the system’s modulated because it’s based on priority systems. So it’s not like it’s first come, first serve.”

The registrations are filtered through Pima County, which grants vaccine appointments based on priority. The Banner and Tucson Medical Center sites will prioritize those 85 and older first, according to Evans.

The county is allowing school districts to prioritize which staff members will receive the vaccine first, while law enforcement agencies and the courts also choose which workers among their agencies will be prioritized.

Find 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 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