Monday, March 15, 2021

Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Monday, March 15: Cases Continue Downward Trend; Pima County Hits 2,300 deaths; UK, Brazilian Variants Are in AZ; Supplies Remain Limited but Here’s How To Set Up Vaccine Appointments, COVID Tests

Posted By on Mon, Mar 15, 2021 at 10:29 AM

With 638 new cases reported today, the total number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases topped 833,000 as of Monday, March 15, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County, which reported 137 new cases today, has seen 111,344 of the state’s 833,381 confirmed cases.

With no new deaths reported this morning, a total of 16,553 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 2,300 deaths in Pima County, according to the March 15 report.

A total of 716 coronavirus patients were in the hospital as of March 11 That’s roughly 14% 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.

The number of people visiting emergency rooms with COVID-like dropped to 834 on March 14. That number represents 36 percent 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 210 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on March 11, which is roughly 18% of the record 1,183 ICU patients 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.

Cases continue decline

Arizona has seen eight straight weeks of decline in COVID cases through the week ending March 7, which saw 5,721 new confirmed COVID cases. That was a 17% drop from the previous week, according to Dr. Joe Gerald, an epidemiologist and associate professor in the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health.

Gerald, who has been tracking the spread of the virus with weekly reports for a year, said the state had moved from high risk to substantial risk and hospital capacity was low enough to meet the state’s needs. New cases had fallen to 79 per 100,000 residents and PCR testing had dropped to 9%, putting it in the 5% to 10% zone for “optimal public health practice,” according to Gerald.

Gerald said those with high risk for COVID complications, such as the elderly or those with preexisting conditions, should continue to stay home as much as possible until they are fully vaccinated. Everyone else should continue wearing masks, washing their hands and keeping six feet of distance from people outside their household.

However, some doctors are still urging more caution.

Phoenix endocrinologist Dr. Ricardo Correa, Tucson family medicine specialist Dr. Cadey Harrel and Glendale obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Dionne Mills spoke out against loosening restrictions in Arizona at a press conference last week.

“For the past year, too many people have struggled, sacrificed and died to get at this point in the pandemic,” said Correa. “We are close to eradicating COVID-19, but if you don't make the final effort, we are close to be back to where we were last year.”

Back-to-back executive orders on March 3 and March 5 by Gov. Doug Ducey, moved Arizona closer to reopening. The first mandated schools reopen by March 15 or after Spring Break. The second removed capacity limits on businesses and allowed spring training baseball and other professional and collegiate sports to operate after the approval of a safety and public health plan.

On March 3, the Arizona House passed bill, HB 2770 with a vote of 31-28, which asserts businesses are not required to enforce mask mandates from the state, a city, town or county or any other jurisdiction. The bill has now passed to the Senate for consideration.

Faced with these developments, Harrel urges Gov Ducey and Arizona legislators to “do the right thing and to listen to the science.”

Harrel, the CEO of Agave Community Health and Wellness, said that loosening restrictions should not occur until we have achieved herd immunity, or community immunity, which epidemiologists and health experts say occurs when 70-90 percent of the population is vaccinated and enough people have immunity to stop the spread of the COVID-19 within the general public.

For more details, click here.

UK, Brazilian variants in Arizona

Health authorities confirmed Friday that the Brazilian COVID-19 variant has been circulating in Yuma County.

At least three positive cases of the P1 COVID variant were spotted through genetic testing of samples.

Last week, health officials confirmed that four cases of the COVID-19 UK variant have been found in Pima County, said Pima County Health Department Director Dr. Theresa Cullen during a briefing last week.

Pima County Health Department has been tracking genomic sequencing of positive COVID-19 PCR tests (aka the nasal swab test). They send a random sample of those positive PCR tests to the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in Flagstaff for sequencing, Cullen said.

This process takes up about three to four weeks from the collection and procession of the sample to getting a positive result and then sending it to a lab like TGen, where the genetic sequencing takes place. In other words, the variant has been in Pima County for at least three to four weeks since the sample was collected, Cullen said.

According to the CDC, this variant, first detected in the U.S. in late December 2020, spreads more easily and quickly than other variants. Some experts in the U.K. reported the variant may be associated with an increased risk in death, but this finding has not been confirmed.

“It's not to make the community frightened, but it is to remind the community that COVID-19 is a deadly disease,” said Cullen. “It has significant morbidity and mortality and the way we protect ourselves right now is to do the three W's, to abide by the recommendations that we've given.”

How to get a vaccine

To find out if you are eligible for a vaccine, visit the Arizona Department of Health website.

While supplies remain limited, Pima County is providing vaccination appointments to people 55 and older as well as frontline workers, educators, first responders and healthcare workers. Those who qualify in Pima County’s 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 at the University of Arizona accepts registration and appointments at pod vaccine.azdhs.gov, and those who need assistance can call 1-844-542-8201. More details here.

Many local pharmacies are now receiving vaccine doses. To find one near you, visit the ADHS website.

Get tested: Pima County has free COVID testing

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) and the Udall Center (7200 E. Tanque Verde Road).

The center at the northside Ellie Towne Flowing Wells Community Center, 1660 W. Ruthrauff Road, involves a saliva test designed by ASU.

Schedule an appointment at these or other drive-thru or pop-up sites at pima.gov/covid19testing.

The University of Arizona’s antibody testing can determine if you have had COVID and now have antibodies. 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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