Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Tuesday, Feb. 23: Rate of new cases continues to slow; UA allowing more classes; Vaccine supplies limited but here’s how to set up appointments, COVID tests

Posted By on Tue, Feb 23, 2021 at 9:08 AM

With 1,884 new cases reported today, the total number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases topped 810,000 as of Tuesday, Feb. 23, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County, which reported 151 new cases today, has seen 108,630 of the state’s 810,658 confirmed cases.

With 148 new deaths reported today, a total of 15,650 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 2,180 deaths in Pima County, according to the Feb. 23 report.

The number of hospitalized COVID cases statewide has declined in recent weeks, with 1,515 coronavirus patients in the hospital as of Feb. 22. That’s less than a third of the number 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 1,072 people visited emergency rooms on Feb. 22 with COVID symptoms, less than half of 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 447 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Feb. 22, 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

While supplies are limited, Pima County is providing vaccination shots to people 65 and older as well as educators, first responders and healthcare workers. 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 began appointments last week. The new site follows the state’s current vaccine eligibility, which includes those 65 and older, educators, childcare workers and protective service workers.

The POD is expanding its hours of operation from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m seven days a week.

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

New COVID cases, hospitalizations continue decline

For the fifth straight week, COVID-19 conditions improved across the state.

The week ending Feb. 14 saw a 35% decrease in total COVID-19 cases across the state from the week prior, according to Dr. Joe Gerald, a University of Arizona professor who creates weekly coronavirus epidemiology reports based on Arizona Department of Health Services data.

In Pima County, cases declined 31% from the week before, Gerald said in the report.

The past four weeks have seen 5,308 COVID-19 cases the week beginning Jan. 17, 3,782 cases the week of Jan. 24, 2,473 cases the week of Jan. 31 and 1,586 cases from Feb. 7 to Feb. 13, according to the most-recent Pima County data.

Hospitalizations have also decreased in these four weeks, with 283 reported the week of Jan. 17, 242 the week of Jan. 24, 140 the week of Jan. 31 and 99 the week of Feb. 7.

In the same four-week timeframe, the county reported 173, 101, 64 and 23 coronavirus deaths respectively.

Gerald’s report says the week ending Jan. 17 remains Arizona’s deadliest at 1,011 coronavirus deaths across the state.

COVID-19 cases continue to remain above the threshold of 100 new weekly cases per 100,000 residents, which signifies elevated risk. Gerald said the week of Feb. 14 saw 158 new cases per 100,000 of the population.

As of Monday, Feb. 22, Arizona holds the 17th highest rate for transmission in the country, according to CDC data. Gerald says the state is the sixth hardest hit in terms of identified cases.

Arizona saw a 28% decrease in general ward hospital bed usage among COVID-19 patients during the week of Feb. 19, while the number of coronavirus patients occupying ICU beds dropped 26% from the previous week, according to Gerald’s data.

Dr. Marjorie Bessel, the chief clinical officer of Banner Health, said Wednesday last week that hospitalizations and ventilator usage remain low, but ICUs are still seeing occupancies 10% higher than the peak of a normal winter season and are operating at 150% of their licensed bed capacity.

She expects the decline from the winter surge in cases to take much longer than that of the summer surge.

“It still is important to realize that we are in the midst of pandemic and while the decrease in all of those statistics of percent positivity, cases, hospitalizations, ICU, and ventilator usage are absolutely great and welcome, we still are in the midst of a pandemic,” Bessel said. “It is important for us to stay true to science and follow appropriate mitigation, enforcement and personal accountability.”

To gauge when more in-person activities can resume, Bessel said experts are watching factors like the percent positivity of COVID-19 among the population and the r-naught rate, which shows the average number of people who will contract the virus from an infected person.

“We've also been asked when things can return to normal. When can you hang out with your friends again, when can you stop wearing masks? While there is no definitive timeline, here are some of the things that public health experts are watching to make that determination,” she said. “We need to see community positivity rates below 5% and the r-naught, or the reproductive rate, below one. In addition, high vaccination rates are necessary. When all these things occur and when we have roughly 70% to 85% herd immunity, it is likely that you'll see recommendations from public health experts regarding ceasing of current restrictions.”

Arizona’s total percent positivity is at 14.2% according to ADHS data, and its r-naught is at 0.97, according to Statistica. More details here.

UA allowing more in-person classes

The University of Arizona moved to phase two of its reentry plan Monday with its nearly 8,000 students now able to attend in-person classes of 50 or fewer.

From Feb. 12-21, UA administered 15,047 COVID-19 tests and found 20 positive cases for a positivity rating of 0.1%, down from last week’s percent positivity of 0.3%.

The university’s goal is to keep this number below 5%, which they’ve maintained for several weeks.

“National and state and even Pima County data continues to look better. We are reassured that all of the programs that we have put in place to continue to operate our university have been working well because of the data that we have seen,” said Dr. Richard Carmona, UA's reentry task force director and former U.S. surgeon general. “But with that in mind, we still cannot be complacent. We must still work hard, tirelessly to maintain the privilege to keep our university open, to educate our students and be part of a bigger community.”

Dorm residents or students who attend classes in person are required to take one COVID-19 test a week. To enforce the testing requirement, university students won’t be able to access the school’s Wi-Fi network until they’ve verified they received a COVID-19 test.

The university is loosening some restrictions in dorms and will allow guests in common areas to use recreational amenities such as pianos and game tables, Carmona said.

Get tested: Pima County has free COVID testing

After the state agreed to provide additional funding for testing centers for at least two more weeks, Pima County is continuing to offer 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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