Monday, March 1, 2021

Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Monday, March 1: New cases continue decline, health officials may soon loosen restrictions; Vaccine supplies limited but here’s how to set up appointments, COVID tests

Posted By on Mon, Mar 1, 2021 at 9:13 AM

With 1,039 new cases reported today, the total number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases closed in on 818,000 as of Monday, March 1, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County, which reported 113 new cases today, has seen 109,601 of the state’s 817,821 confirmed cases.

A total of 15,971 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 2,216 deaths in Pima County, according to the March 1 report.

The number of hospitalized COVID cases statewide has declined in recent weeks, with 1,241 coronavirus patients in the hospital as of Feb. 28. That’s less than a fourth 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 952 people visited emergency rooms on Feb. 28 with COVID symptoms, a big drop 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 382 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Feb. 25, less than a third of the record 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 was not accepting first-dose appointments as of Monday, March 1. When accepting new appointments, the site follows the state’s current vaccine eligibility, which includes those 65 and older, educators, childcare workers and protective service workers.

As the state-run POD, or point of distribution, registrations will go through ADHS’s website. When online registration resumes, you can make an appointment at at pod vaccine.azdhs.gov, and those who need assistance can call 1-844-542-8201. More details here.

Eight CVS pharmacies throughout Arizona began offering COVID-19 vaccines starting last week.

Patients must register in advance at CVS.com or through the CVS Pharmacy app. People without online access can contact CVS Customer Service: (800) 746-7287. Walk-in vaccinations without an appointment will not be provided. Per the state of Arizona, eligible individuals for the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program are people age 65 and over, health care workers, protective services, teachers and childcare providers.

As more supply becomes available, the company will expand vaccine access through an increasing number of store locations and in more Arizona counties. 

Click here register in advance for a vaccine at a CVS location.

Cases continue decline, health officials say relaxed restrictions on horizon

With the winter wave of coronavirus cases receding and more Pima County residents getting vaccinated, local officials say they may soon loosen COVID-related restrictions on crowd sizes and similar measures meant to slow the spread of the disease.

Dr. Theresa Cullen, head of the Pima County Public Health Department, said last week that as long as current trends continue, she expected that she’d release a new Public Health Advisory that would offer relaxed recommendations in the near future.

“If you go look at the Public Health Advisory, it still recommends that people stay in groups of 10, that would be a thing we would loosen up,” said Cullen. “We loosen up the concept of having spectators at external sporting events, which I know is near and dear to many people.”

However people should still expect the “three W's” (wear a mask, wash your hands, and wait) to remain in place as well as a physical distance of six feet, said Cullen.

Dr. Cara Christ, the head of the Arizona Department of Health, said that the state will also look at easing restrictions on large gatherings and other COVID-related regulations if the numbers continue a downward slide.

“We'd normally wait for all of the metrics to get down into the yellow for two weeks before we would start loosening some of those things,” said Christ.

Dr. Joe Gerald, an associate professor at the UA College of Public Health who puts out a weekly tracker of COVID trends, noted that for the week ending Feb. 21, at least 9,646 COVID cases were diagnosed in Arizona, which represented a 16% drop in the previous week’s numbers. That’s the lowest weekly number since Nov. 1 and marked six straight weeks of decline, but Arizona still had the 17th highest rate of transmission in the nation, according to the CDC.

In his weekly report released over the weekend, Gerald noted that the number of COVID patients in both general-ward and ICU beds dropped by 20 percent compared to the previous week. “While Arizona hospitals’ safety margins remain low, they are slowly improving,” Gerald wrote.

He urged people to continue wearing masks in public, avoid social gatherings, maintain physical distance from people not in your household and spend less than 15 minutes in indoor spaces, but said people could likely resume lower-risk activities once rates fall below 100 new diagnoses per 100,000 residents per week.

While the week ending Jan. 17 remained Arizona’s deadliest with 1,021 people dying after contracting COVID, Gerald estimated that the coronavirus death toll would be above 200 a week for another two to four weeks and falling below 200 a week by the end of March.

A total of 1,093 Pima County residents tested positive for COVID-19 in the week ending Feb. 21, which was a 34% drop from the 1,666 cases in the previous week. Pima County saw 104 new cases per 100,000 residents in the week ending Feb. 21, according to Gerald.

Vaccination progress

As of last Friday, Feb. 26, more than 1 million Arizonans have received at least the first dose of the vaccine with over 1.6 million doses administered, according to Dr. Cara Christ, head of the Arizona Department of Health Services.

With an expected increase in vaccine doses with the FDA’s approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Christ anticipates expanding the pool of people eligible to receive a vaccine at a state point of distribution sometime this month.

“If it's approved, we anticipate receiving the (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine in early March,” Christ said.

Christ said while the state was still working out the details, she expected to get between 50,000 and 60,000 Johnson & Johnson doses. Because people only need one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it would be ideal for hard-to-track populations.

“This would be a great thing for doing mobile vaccination, especially out in rural communities,” said Christ. “You only have to go once and they are considered a completed dose, so they don't have to go back for that second dose.”

An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Pima County residents in the 65+ group remained to be vaccinated as of last Friday, Feb. 26, said Dr. Theresa Cullen, head of the Pima County Health Department. Pima County had administered more than 250,000 vaccinations, with roughly 173,000 people receiving the first dose and roughly 80,000 people fully vaccinated.

However, expanding the pool of people eligible for the vaccine will depend on balancing second shots for those who have received their first one with scheduling first shots for 1B patients.

“We are in the process of working with both TCC and TMC which are our large efficient pods, as well as Banner to figure out how to appropriately get the first shots into the system,“ said Cullen

For the current week, the health department requested 40,000 doses independent of the UA POD, and received 24,000 Moderna doses, along with 17,550 Pfizer doses for Banner North and UMC for a total of 41,550 doses, said Cullen.

Get tested: Pima County has free COVID testing

After the state agreed to provide additional funding to keep testing centers open through at least March 2, 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, Christina Duran, Jeff Gardner and Mike Truelsen

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