Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Tuesday, Feb. 2: 238 New Deaths; Cases on a Decline but AZ Remains Nation’s Hot Spot; Variant Strains Remain a Concern

Posted By on Tue, Feb 2, 2021 at 9:07 AM

With fewer than 3,000 new cases reported today, the total number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases surpassed 765,000 as of Tuesday, Feb. 2, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County, which reported 504 new cases today, has seen 102,320 of the state’s 765,083 confirmed cases.

The death toll jumped by 238 today, bringing the total number of Arizonans who have died after contracting COVID-19 to 13,362. Pima County reported 55 new deaths today, bringing the local total to 1,795 deaths, according to the Feb. 1 report.

The number of hospitalized COVID cases statewide has declined in recent weeks after peaking at 5,082 on Jan. 11 and yesterday dropped below the summer peak of 3,517, which was set on July 13, 2020. A total of 3,513 COVID patients were hospitalized in the state as of Feb. 1. The lowest number of hospitalized COVID patients was 468, set on Sept. 27, 2020.

A total of 1,486 people visited emergency rooms on Feb. 1 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, 2020; it hit a subsequent low of 653 on Sept. 28, 2020.

A total of 944 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Feb. 1, 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, 2020. The subsequent low was 114 on Sept. 22, 2020.

How to get a vaccine shot

Those who currently qualify in Pima County’s 1B priority group of eligible vaccine recipients can register for a vaccine at www.pima.gov/covid19vaccineregistration or by calling 520-222-0119.

Cases on decline but AZ remains nation’s hottest spot

COVID-19 cases have decreased in Arizona for the second week in a row, but the state remains the nation’s highest for transmission of the virus.

CDC data shows Arizona’s average transmission rate is at 75 daily cases per 100,000 population. The state has held the first or second spot through most of January.

The week ending Jan. 24 showed an 18% decrease in coronavirus cases from the previous week prior, 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.

“This week saw another meaningful decline in COVID-19 cases which now clearly represents a sustained, real decrease in viral transmission,” Gerald wrote in this week’s report. “This decline is accompanied by reductions in hospital and ICU occupancy. Reductions in mortality should quickly follow. While this reprieve is welcomed, the absolute level of [coronavirus] transmission remains exceptionally high.”

The week ending Jan. 10 remains the state’s deadliest with 889 COVID-19 deaths recorded so far. Gerald predicts deaths will remain “exceptionally high” for the next four to six weeks.

In Pima County, positive cases from the week ending Jan. 17 decreased by 26% since the previous week, Gerald’s report says.

The first week of January saw Pima County’s highest weekly number of COVID-19 cases at 8,814, while the following week dropped to 6,971 and the third week to 4,986, according to the latest Pima County Health Department report. Data from the last 4-7 days are still trickling in, however.

Coronavirus deaths in January’s first week tallied 126, the second week 116 and the third week 55, the county reports.

According to Pima County’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia, three key indicators tracking the spread of COVID-19 are decreasing throughout the county: cases per 100,000 individuals, percent positivity and hospital visits for COVID-like illness.

This leads him to believe the downward trend in coronavirus cases will continue.

“All of those are moving in the right direction. If it was going to be short-lived I would expect some of those to not be trending in the same direction,” Garcia said.

However, the trend won’t continue without widespread adherence to virus mitigation practices like mask-wearing, social distancing and frequent sanitization.

“I think we could sustain it if we don't get sloppy again,” Garcia said. “If we continue to do the common sense kinds of mitigation measures that we have tried to reinforce as much as possible, I think we will mitigate against it.”

As of Jan. 29, COVID-19 patients occupying hospital beds decreased 14% from the previous week, while ICU bed usage decreased by 6%, according to Gerald.

According to Pima County Health Department data, the first week of January had 434 COVID-19 hospitalizations, the second week 338 and the third week 218.

However, a memo from Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry reports hospitals’ capacity still remains critical.

On Jan. 29, ICU bed availability was at 5% with only 19 beds available. According to the memo, capacity has remained below 10% for 80 days.

The county’s medical surge beds have remained under 10% capacity for 87 days, with 121 beds available as of last Friday, the memo says.

COVID-19 patients accounted for 45% of total ICU bed usage, and 116 coronavirus patients were on ventilators, representing 55% of total ventilator usage in the county.

While data tracking the spread of COVID-19 across the state shows promising downward trends, the pandemic is still challenging hospitals’ ability to provide care, and the slight reprieve in the state comes relative to the sustained widespread transmission of the virus.

“While conditions are improving, Arizona remains in a public health crisis where access to critical care services is limited due to shortages of space, personnel and critical supplies,” Gerald said. “These conditions will persist into early February before easing. Additional mitigation efforts could further slow viral transmission, more quickly reduce hospital burden, and allow additional time to vaccinate those at greatest risk.”

More info here.

UA delivering vaccines, limiting in-person classes

The University of Arizona has delivered 5,810 COVID-19 vaccines after opening as one of Pima County’s five points of distribution, according to the university's President Dr. Robert C. Robbins.

The POD is targeted toward educators and childcare providers, and Robbins estimates it can deliver 800 shots per day this week while it’s open Monday through Saturday.

The university has two vaccination sites: a drive-through location at the University of Arizona Mall and a walk-through clinic at the Ina E. Gittings building.

As cases could transmit even faster with the arrival of more contagious coronavirus variants from the UK, South Africa and Brazil in the U.S., Robbins said becoming vaccinated is even more crucial.

The UK variant has been identified in Arizona after at least three test samples came back positive for it, the Arizona Department of Health Services announced Friday.

“We're seeing problematic variants circulate, and the longer the pandemic continues, the more we will have new variants with clinically significant mutations,” he said. “The vaccine will help us reach herd immunity more quickly and have less illness and certainly less mortality in our population.”

While serving as a vaccination POD, the university will continue in stage one of its reentry plan with in-person instruction for essential courses only at least through the week of Feb. 8, Robbins said. Stage two of the reentry plan involves up to 50 students attending classes in person.

The return to more in-person instruction is based on data tracking the spread of COVID-19 across the state.

While COVID-19 cases in Arizona have decreased for the second week in a row, Robbins emphasized the state still remains number one for transmissibility in the nation.

While the seven-day rolling average for COVID-19 cases is at 45 per 100,000 of the population nationwide, Arizona is experiencing 75 cases per 100,000 people, while Pima County is at 66 cases per 100,000, Robbins shared.

“I hope that we'll be able to move to phase two within a couple of weeks, but I don't think right now is the time to do it,” Robbins said. “Let's get the numbers going down, get the curve back to where we had it when we were the lowest in the nation, and then I think we can move forward.”

This semester, on-campus dorm students are required to take two COVID-19 tests a week with at least 48 hours between tests. Students will take the new PCR saline gargle test developed by Michael Worobey, the head of UA’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

From Jan. 22-31, UA administered 15,526 COVID-19 tests and found 200 positive cases for a positivity rating of 1.3%, down from last week’s percent positivity of 2%.

According to Robbins, 50 students were in isolation dorm beds as of Jan. 29 with 92% of beds still available.

More info 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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