Thursday, March 4, 2021

Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Thursday, March 4: Ducey orders schools to resume in-person learning; Az. death toll increases by 96; Pima County tops 110K cases; Here’s how to set up appointments, COVID tests

Posted By on Thu, Mar 4, 2021 at 9:18 AM

With 1,154 new cases reported today, the total number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases topped 821,000 as of Thursday, March 4, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County, which reported 131 new cases today, has seen 110,072 of the state’s 821,108 confirmed cases.

With 96 new deaths reported today, a total of 16,185 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 2,247 deaths in Pima County, according to the March 4 report.

The number of hospitalized COVID cases statewide has continued to decline, with 1,072 coronavirus patients in the hospital as of March 3. That’s roughly 21% 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 1,154 people visited emergency rooms on March 3 with COVID symptoms. That number has been ticking upwards slightly this week but is just about 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 343 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on March 3, 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 remain 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 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 Tuesday, March 2. While the state is now offering vaccinations to people older than 55 along with frontline workers in the Phoenix area, vaccine appointments in Pima County remain limited to those 65 and older, educators, childcare workers and protective service workers.

“As more vaccine reaches Arizona, we will continue refining our plan to maximize the benefits of this still-limited resource,” said ADHS Director Dr. Cara Christ. “Moving to a hybrid approach will allow us to rapidly and efficiently administer the vaccine and provide all Arizonans with a clearer estimate of when they will be eligible to be vaccinated.”

As the state-run POD, or point of distribution, registrations at the UA vaccination site will go through ADHS’s website. When online registration resumes, you can make an appointment at pod, 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 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 to register in advance for a vaccine at a CVS location.

Ducey orders schools to resume in-person instruction by March 15 or the end of spring break

Gov. Doug Ducey told schools yesterday to resume in-person instruction by March 15 or the end of spring break.

The executive order comes as 12 of Arizona’s 15 counties, including Pima, are "in phases where all schools are safe to open," according to Ducey, although the majority of Arizona counties are still in the "substantial" category of COVID-19 spread.

The order includes district and charter schools, but gubernatorial spokesman C.J. Karamargin did not respond to an email inquiring whether schools could continue with the current hybrid system that has students attending in person two days a week and doing virtual instruction three days a week, which several local districts have adopted as a mitigation strategy to allow more physical distancing at schools.

“Arizona’s students need to be back in the classroom," Ducey said. "More than half of Arizona’s schools are open and offering in-person options. More schools need to follow their lead, and pave the way for equitable education options for every Arizona student."

However, an individual district may close if the local health department advises closure due to "a significant outbreak" of the COVID-19 virus that poses a risk to the students or staff, and is approved for closure by the Arizona Department of Health Services.

An exception is made for middle and high schools located in the counties with “high” transmission of COVID-19: Coconino, Yavapai and Pinal.

The Arizona Department of Health Services updated their COVID-19 School Benchmarks following the executive order on Wednesday.

Following CDC recommendations, schools should keep track of two metrics to track community transmission: cases per 100,000 and the percentage of positive nucleic acid amplification tests all in the last week. Both will determine whether a school has low, moderate, substantial or high transmission. ADHS recommends elementary schools remain in hybrid learning if in the moderate to high range, while middle schools and high schools should offer virtual learning if in high transmission, unless they are already offering in-person instruction and have few cases or have implemented mitigation strategies to keep cases down. Once schools reach moderate transmission, they recommend all K-12 schools open for full in-person instruction.

Several school districts in Pima County have already reopened schools or plan to reopen them before or after Spring Break. However, most districts offer several different methods of instruction, not a full five days of in-person learning.

For example, as of March 1, Sunnyside Unified School District has almost half of their students attending school as part of their in-person hybrid program. These students are split into two groups, each attending school two days per week and one-day remote. Other districts with varying hybrid programs are Amphitheater and Catalina Foothills.

School districts surveyed teachers, staff, parents and students in order to provide a method of instruction that would suit them. Parents with children attending Tucson Unified School District have until March 7 to decide the method of instruction for their child. According to a TUSD spokesperson, they are still reviewing Governor Ducey’s Executive Order.

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

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, Christina Duran, Jeff Gardner and Mike Truelsen