Friday, January 29, 2021

Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Friday, Jan. 29: AZ Death Toll Tops 13K; Pima County Tops 100K Cases; State Closes in on 750K cases; Hospitals Remain Under Pressure

Posted By on Fri, Jan 29, 2021 at 9:07 AM

With 5,028 new cases reported today, the total number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases surpassed closed in on 750,000 as of Friday, Jan. 29, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County, which reported 698 new cases today, clearing the six-figure threshold, having seen 100,272 of the state’s 748,260 confirmed cases.

A total of 13,022 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 1,736 deaths in Pima County, according to the Jan. 29 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. 28, 3,970 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 1,723 people visited emergency rooms on Jan. 28 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 1,002 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Jan. 28, 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.

Despite last week's announcement that COVID-19 cases had decreased and that some elective surgeries would resume, Arizona’s largest hospital system is still caring for more patients than it did during the summer surge.

“Patient care in our hospitals has not yet returned to a state that I would define as usual and customary, and I would caution you against celebrating too early as we slowly work our way out of this difficult surge,” said Banner Health’s Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Marjorie Bessel said at a Wednesday press conference.

Banner is using thousands of out-of-state healthcare workers while upskilling others to help in its ICUs, Bessel said.

The hospital’s forecasting predicts it will take two to three more months for Arizona to fully recover from the winter surge in cases with many more weeks of high numbers of hospitalizations.

Bessel said Banner hospitals frequently monitor the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation tool to grasp likely consequences of COVID-19 in the future.

Estimates predict Arizona will reach 18,500 deaths by May if it continues its current mitigation policies against the virus. If the state eases current mitigations, the death total could reach 22,200 by May, Bessel shared.

Bessel said while vaccines are a long-term strategy to combat coronavirus, “Mitigation and enforcement will be much more effective in reducing COVID-19 deaths in the upcoming weeks and months.”

Bessel said Banner is closely following the known COVID-19 mutations: the UK variant, the South African variant and the Brazilian variant. The UK variant, which is much more contagious, has been found in the United States.

With little information about the effects of the variants so far, Bessel said the current vaccines will likely work against the coronavirus mutations.

“We're getting some good information that the vaccine looks like it will still be efficacious against these variants,” Bessel said. “This is an evolving and dynamic situation, and we're continuing to watch it very, very closely and carefully and do expect that more information about this will unfold over the next weeks and months to come.”

Bessel expects the variants could already account for some of the reported COVID-19 cases and deaths in the state.

“As we've learned throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the virus travels fairly quickly across the entire world, and even though we may not have a confirmed case of it, it's very plausible that it is already here,” she said. “Again, this is a very dynamic situation. We will continue to monitor it and stay close to it in the upcoming weeks to months, and we'll bring you updated information as it becomes available to all of us.”

As Arizona faces the possible worsening of an already accelerated virus, it ranks number two in the nation today for the transmission of COVID-19 with 95 average daily cases per 100,000 of the population, a slight improvement from the number one spot it’s held the last few days.

“This is not the first time that Arizona, very unfortunately, has been at the top of that. If you remember back to our very significant summer surge, we also had very high cases. And we're number one in the world for a period of time when we're at the very, very peak,” Bessel said.

“This was a very difficult surge that we've all just crested over and we're having a very slow decline. So I ask everybody to assist with the messages that I continue to convey each and every week. Please continue to shrink your circles and wear your mask appropriately, completely over your nose, your mouth and cover your chin.”

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