Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Wednesday, Feb. 17: Deaths Top 15K; Cases Top 800K; Vaccine Supplies Remain Limited but 65+ Can Now Register; How To Sign Up for Vaccine, COVID Test

Posted By on Wed, Feb 17, 2021 at 9:17 AM

With 1,315 new cases reported today, the total number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases topped 801,000 as of Wednesday, Feb. 17, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County, which reported 188 new cases today, has seen 107,401 of the state’s 801,055 confirmed cases.

A total of 15,063 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 2,082 deaths in Pima County, according to the Feb. 17 report.

The number of hospitalized COVID cases statewide has declined in recent weeks, with 1,941 coronavirus patients in the hospital as of Feb. 16. That’s fewer than half the number who were hospitalized at the peak of the winter surge, which reached 5,082 on Jan. 11. The summer peak was 3,517, which was set on July 13, 2020. The subsequent lowest number of hospitalized COVID patients was 468, set on Sept. 27, 2020.

A total of 1,272 people visited emergency rooms on Feb. 16 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 593 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Feb. 15, 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

Currently, Pima County is providing vaccination shots to people 70 and older as well as educators, first responders and healthcare workers, but that group will expand to anyone 65 and older tomorrow. Those who 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.

A state-run vaccination site opening at the University of Arizona will begin appointments on Feb. 18. The new site will follow the state’s current vaccine eligibility, which includes those 65 and older, educators, childcare workers and protective service workers, according to Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ.

As the state-run POD, or point of distribution, registrations will go through ADHS’s website. Appointments will begin on Feb. 18, and registration will open at 9 a.m. on Feb 16. Online registration will be available at podvaccine.azdhs.gov, and those who need assistance can call 1-844-542-8201. More details here.

Pima County expanding eligibility for vaccine to 65+ tomorrow

Pima County residents ages 65 and over will be able to pre-register for COVID-19 vaccine appointments starting 9 a.m., Thursday, the Pima County Health Department announced Tuesday.

Pima County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia said the announcement comes not because of increased vaccine availability, but to avoid confusion as the new state-run site at the University of Arizona provides vaccines to the 65+ population.

Garcia said the county health department was poised to make the decision to open vaccine appointments to the 65+ crowd next week, but accelerated the announcement so the county’s eligibility requirements will align with the state’s.

“We know that this is a complicated message because, on the one hand, I'm telling you that vaccine supply is restricted. On the other hand, I'm telling you that more people are going to be eligible for that restricted vaccine supply,” Garcia said. “One of the things that we are really, really working hard to mitigate against is the fact that with the opening of the state POD here at the University of Arizona, I am worried that people will start to get confused. And so rather than have different age eligibilities at different locations, we want to have uniform age eligibility across Pima County, even even if it poses some challenges for us.”

Vaccine registration opened to the 70+ population on Feb. 4, and Pima County has administered a total of 195,889 COVID-19 vaccine doses, according to Arizona Department of Health Services data.

However, the county saw a decreased vaccine allotment this week that undercuts the demand for them. Some county PODs have cut back on their hours of operation and the number of doses they can supply.

“There is still a great deal of demand for appointments among those 70 and older and along with our partners, we are working hard to continue being efficient in getting every dose we can out to our community,” County Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen said in a press release from the county. “Right now, the factor limiting our ability to continue expanding eligibility remains the supply of vaccine. We have enough resources to continue accelerating our delivery. We just have to have the vaccine to do it.” More details here.

Reduction in hours and vaccine supply at Pima County’s PODs

The Tucson Convention Center is reducing its vaccination hours one hour a day, operating 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. instead of 5 p.m., while the Tucson Medical Center is only providing first-dose appointments to those 75 and older, according to a press release from the county.

The two Banner sites are consolidating their operations on March 4, so both the Banner North and Banner South sites will operate at the Kino Sports Complex. Resultantly, Banner North has stopped making new appointments.

Other vaccination sites at community health centers will also curtail vaccinations and will focus on delivering second doses only.

Cullen is hopeful that a national increase in vaccine supply and the potential for the approval of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which will go before the FDA for emergency use authorization on Feb. 26.

“We are getting reports daily that vaccine production is being ramped up nationally and increased supply is on the way. Plus, the approval of a new single-dose vaccine is imminent,” Cullen said. “So I expect these difficulties will be short-term and we’ll be able to rev-up our Accelerated Plan soon and get people protected from this terrible disease.”

Numbers improving in Pima County

With the fourth week in a row of declining COVID-19 cases in Pima County, Arizona has evolved from a state of “crisis” to one of “elevated risk,” according to Dr. Joe Gerald, a University of Arizona professor who creates weekly coronavirus epidemiology reports based on Arizona Department of Health Services data.

According to Gerald’s latest report, the week ending Feb. 7 saw a 35% decrease in coronavirus cases from the week prior.

The amount of COVID-19 patients in the state’s general ward beds decreased by 25% the week of Feb. 12 from the week before, while ICU bed usage dropped 17%, according to Gerald.

“With continued improvements being forecast over the next 4 weeks, hospital capacity is adequate to meet Arizona’s most critical needs,” the professor wrote in the report. “Nevertheless, it will be many months before the backlog of non-COVID care can be fully addressed.”

In Pima County, the week ending Feb. 7 saw a 33% drop from the previous week, Gerald reports.

Furthermore, for the first time in 2021, two of the indicators on Pima County’s COVID-19 progress report, which tracks key epidemiological factors to make recommendations to business schools, have improved.

Adequate hospital capacity and timely case investigation metrics have moved from the “not met” to “progress” category.

Timely case investigation tracks how long it takes for the county’s case investigators to reach an individual who’s tested positive COVID-19 after they’re diagnosed.

Cases over two consecutive weeks, percent positivity for the virus and the predominance of COVID-19 like illness remain in the “criteria not met” category.

Although hospitals are seeing a slight reprieve, they remain under pressure, according to Pima County Health Department Director Dr. Theresa Cullen.

“At the same time [hospital availability] moved to yellow, we also do note that today is the 100th day when we have had less than 10% availability in our ICU beds as well as our general medical-surgical beds, those are our adult beds,” Cullen said at a press conference on Friday. “So at the same time, while we have some movement in the right direction, we remain concerned about our hospitalization.”

Cases over two consecutive weeks, percent positivity for the virus and the predominance of COVID-19 like illness remain in the “criteria not met” category.

Although hospitals are seeing a slight reprieve, they remain under pressure, according to Pima County Health Department Director Dr. Theresa Cullen.

“At the same time [hospital availability] moved to yellow, we also do note that today is the 100th day when we have had less than 10% availability in our ICU beds as well as our general medical-surgical beds, those are our adult beds,” Cullen said at a press conference on Friday. “So at the same time, while we have some movement in the right direction, we remain concerned about our hospitalization.”

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

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