Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Wednesday, Jan. 27: Pima County awaits more vaccine from state; Hospitals see slight decrease in patients but Arizona still has nation's highest transmission rate; 195 new deaths today pushes total toll past 12,500

Posted By on Wed, Jan 27, 2021 at 8:52 AM

With 5,918 new cases reported today, the total number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases surpassed 738,000 as of Wednesday, Jan 27, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County, which reported 709 new cases today, has seen 98,743 of the state’s 738,561 confirmed cases.

A total of 12,643 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 1,680 deaths in Pima County, according to the Jan. 26 report.

The number of hospitalized COVID cases statewide has declined in recent weeks after peaking at 5,082 on Jan. 11 but remains above the peak levels of the summer’s first wave. ADHS reported that as of Jan. 26, 4,250 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.

A total of 1,992 people visited emergency rooms on Jan. 26 with COVID symptoms, down from the record high of 2,341 set on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. That number had peaked during the summer wave at 2,008 on July 7; it hit a subsequent low of 653 on Sept. 28.

A total of 1,024 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Jan. 26, down from a peak of 1,183 set on Jan. 11. The summer’s record number of patients in ICU beds was 970, set on July 13. The subsequent low was 114 on Sept. 22.

Cases in slight decline but still at higher levels than summer wave

While the spread of COVID-19 is still considered substantial across the state, it appears numbers have slightly decreased within the last few weeks.

According to the latest report by Dr. Joe Gerald, a University of Arizona professor who creates weekly coronavirus epidemiology reports based on Arizona Department of Health Services data, the week ending Jan. 17 shows a 21% decrease in coronavirus cases from the week prior.

Both hospitalizations and ICU bed occupancy decreased 8% across the state.

In Pima County, the COVID-19 case count for the same week dropped 19% from the week before, the report says.

However, the welcome changes must be looked at relative to the concerning status the state continues to hold in terms of record-setting COVID-19 statistics.

“This week saw a large, unexpected decline in COVID-19 cases. This decline is unlikely to be an artifact of testing as test positivity continues to decline along with hospital and ICU occupancy,” Gerald wrote in the report. “While this reprieve is a welcomed change, the [coronavirus] continues to rampage through Arizona and remains at an appallingly high level.”

Arizona remains the state with the highest transmission rate for the virus in the nation with 96 average daily cases per 100,000 of the population, according to CDC data.

When asked if he believes Pima County is experiencing a plateau of coronavirus cases at a press conference on Jan. 22, the county’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia said it’s not time to celebrate a decline just yet.

“I think it would be premature for me to say that we have plateaued and we're starting to go on the other side of that peak. So yes, there are some indicators that suggest that cases are tending to flatten,” Garcia said. “But if you'll notice something, it is at a very, very high case count. So a plateau at 1,000 cases is very different from a plateau at 100 cases. I would not be claiming victory just yet.”

Some health experts speculate students’ breaks from universities and K-12 schools over the holiday season could explain the decline in cases.

“It is tempting to speculate what might be occurring. Importantly, improvements appear to be country-wide,” Gerald wrote in an email. “This suggests a common thread independent of geography, climate, or local policy. This thread is likely to be a behavior that is structurally and/or culturally imposed. So, here is me crawling out on a limb...I'm going to put my money on university and K-12 closures over the holiday period.”

At a press conference yesterday, Pima County Health Department Director Dr. Theresa Cullen hinted at the idea school closures could be leading to a slight drop in cases.

“I do think we're seeing some stabilization. Now, what potentially may be contributing to that? There's a lot going on right now,” Cullen said. “There's been some speculation from others that the reason why our case count may have gone down is because schools were closed over the holidays. So it does seem like we are seeing at least a reprieve from any escalation in the number of cases right now.”

According to Pima County data, COVID-19 hospitalizations have decreased from 435 the first week of January, to 338 the second week and 200 the third week.

More details here.

Pima County needs more vaccine

As Pima County continues administering COVID-19 vaccines to a select group of individuals, they’re continuing to advocate to the state for more doses to provide immunization to a much larger portion of the population.

Yesterday, Tucson Medical Center had completed the most vaccinations at 31,908, while Banner North stood in second with 17,921, according to information Pima County Chief Medical Officer Francisco Garcia shared in a data chart at a press conference today.

Currently eligible in phase 1B priority of the county’s vaccine rollout are educators, protective service workers and individuals over 75. Healthcare workers have been eligible to receive the vaccine since mid-December.

Since the beginning of January, Garcia said the county has given first-time vaccine doses to 15,523 individuals over 75.

“We are literally vaccinating thousands of folks who are 75 years of age or older. That is so important because these are the folks who are going to die if they get COVID. These are the folks who suffer the worst complications. And these are the folks who really have everything to lose,” Garcia said.

While the county continues to fight for vaccine allocations proportional to its population of more than a million, Arizona’s 24-hour PODs are being allocated nearly the same amount of vaccine as all of Pima County combined.

The two sites, one at the State Farm Stadium in Glendale that opened on Jan. 11 and one at Phoenix Municipal Stadium set to open Feb. 1, were ordered 140,400 doses as of Jan. 26, while the state ordered Pima County 140,425.

The county has administered 79,574 vaccines as of Jan. 26, while the state PODs have administered 79,112.

“To me, that is a really important statistic because it speaks to the fact that we need to have more vaccine on the ground here if we are going to continue to make good progress,” Garcia said. “Right now, our PODs are firing on all engines, it isn't always pretty and it's not always perfect, but we're actually doing a pretty darn good job of getting vaccine administered into the right people's arms.”

More details here and 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

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