Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Wednesday, March 24: Local mayors ask Ducey not to block FEMA vax site in Pima County; Vaccinations open today to those 16 and older; Here’s how to set up vaccine appointments, COVID tests

Posted By on Wed, Mar 24, 2021 at 9:33 AM

With 605 new cases reported today, the total number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases topped 837,000 as of Wednesday, March 24, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County, which reported 48 new cases today, has seen 111,998 of the state’s 837,849 confirmed cases.

With 53 new deaths reported this morning, a total of 16,842 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 2,338 deaths in Pima County, according to the March 24 report.

A total of 653 coronavirus patients were in the hospital as of March 23. That’s roughly 13% 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 1,109 people visited emergency rooms with COVID-like symptoms on March 23. That number represents 47% 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 162 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on March 23, which roughly 13% 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.

Local mayors ask Ducey to reconsider decision to block FEMA from setting up vaccination sites in Pima County

Pima County officials have been working with FEMA staff in recent weeks on various vaccination efforts. FEMA and Pima County were in talks to set up vaccination clinics at the Kino Event Center and El Pueblo Community Center, two sites that are now being converted into walk-in vaccination clinics. The clinics would have provided enough doses to vaccinate an estimated 210,000 Pima County residents, many of them minority and low income.



But when FEMA approached Gov. Doug Ducey's administration about setting up the POD in Pima County, state officials refused to allow it.

Asked about the decision to block the potential site last week, Arizona Health Director Cara Christ said too many state resources would be used for the setup.

But in a March 20 letter to Christ, FEMA Acting Regional Administrator Tammy L. Littrell said that Arizona Health Director Cara Christ did not bring up those issues when she rejected the federal offer.

“I am concerned that our conversation earlier this week did not include the reservations you outlined yesterday when communicating with the press, so I want to address those in this letter,” Littrell wrote.

She added that FEMA Acting Administrator Bob Fenton was available to talk directly to Ducey.

Littrell said that a vaccine allotment to the Pima County site would be in addition to the vaccine being shipped to Arizona and that FEMA would coordinate with the state on medical, managerial, efficiency and customer service issues. She also said that while Christ suggested that the FEMA clinic would have long lines, that has only happened in a handful of cases across the country at FEMA sites.

Pima County officials have also said they are willing to absorb the costs in order to accelerate vaccinations in order more quickly provide shots, reduce the spread of COVID and head off the variant strains that are now spreading in Arizona.

On Monday, Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson, along with all the local mayors—Tucson Mayor Regina Romero, Marana Mayor Ed Honea, Oro Valley Mayor Joe Winfield, South Tucson Mayor Bob Teso and Sahuarita Mayor Tom Murphy—all signed a letter asking Ducey to reconsider his decision.

“Pima County is prepared to provide any and all assistance in setting up this POD such that it does not require resources from the state,” they wrote. “In addition, the vaccine supplied by federal policy will not deduct from the state vaccine allocation.”

The local elected leaders said that the POD “potentially provides another 300,000 or more vaccines that would be targeted for our low-income and minority communities. We understand the state has declined to accept the federal offer for a variety of reasons. We would appreciate you reconsidering this position in asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to establish a federal POD in Pima County.”

State opens vaccinations to anyone 16 and older starting today

Ducey announced this week that COVID vaccines would be available to all adults older than 16 at state vaccination points of delivery starting today, Wednesday, March 24.

As a result, the University of Arizona vaccination POD will start accepting appointments to that group at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, said UA Vice President of Communications Holly Jensen.

Previously, vaccines were limited to people 55 and older as well as frontline workers, educators, first responders and healthcare workers.

Dr. Richard Carmona, the former surgeon general and director of UA Reentry Task Force, said the UA POD has seen hundreds of unfilled vaccine appointments. In a press conference before Ducey’s announcement, Carmona said was going to suggest something similar to state officials.

“We’re at the point where most of us are thinking the best way to accelerate that is do away with all of the administrative oversight, let’s just get everybody in as quickly as we can,” said Carmona.

UA President Dr. Robert C. Robbins said on average they have 100 to 200 unfilled appointments each day. However, Jensen said as of Monday only two vaccines had gone unused due to a needle drop, and if there are missed appointments, the vaccines leftover would go to volunteers at the POD.

New appointments for the UA POD will open up at 11 a.m. on Friday, said Jensen. The Arizona Department of Health Services announced last week it would begin announcing the number of appointments opening up on Fridays via a Wednesday Twitter post.

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said in a memo yesterday that Pima County would open its clinics to anyone over the age of 16 who has a chronic medical condition as well as all essential workers this week, but added that following the state’s lead would result in making an estimated 500,000 more people eligible for the vaccine.

“Without a federal POD, it is impractical to lower the age target for vaccination to those over 16 for the county-supported PODS,” Huckleberry wrote.

You can register for your vaccine appointments at a state point of distribution by visiting pod vaccine.azdhs.gov, and those who need assistance can call 1-844-542-8201.

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.

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

ADHS will now announce on Wednesdays via Twitter, @AZDHS, and Facebook the approximate number of first-dose appointments available. The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) will release those new COVID-19 vaccination appointments every Friday.

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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