Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Wednesday, March 31: State deaths nearly 17K; Pima County follows Tucson in keeping mask mandate in place; Here’s how to set up vaccine appointments, COVID tests

Posted By on Wed, Mar 31, 2021 at 8:37 AM

With 733 new cases reported today, the total number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases neared 842,000 as of Tuesday, March 31, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County, which reported 115 new cases today, has seen 112,667 of the state’s 841,811 confirmed cases.

With 26 new deaths reported this morning, a total of 16,967 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 2,351 deaths in Pima County, according to the March 31 report.

A total of 592 coronavirus patients were in the hospital as of March 30. That’s roughly 11% 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 1,031 people visited emergency rooms with COVID-like symptoms on March 30. That number represents 44% 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 164 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on March 30, which roughly 14% 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.

Pima County, Tucson defy governor, keep mask mandates in place

Pima County's mask mandate remains in effect and health inspectors have the legal authority to enforce mask mandates in food establishments, county officials argued on Tuesday morning.

In a March 26 letter, the Pima County Attorney’s Office informed County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry that Gov. Doug Ducey does not have the legal authority to prevent the County Health Department from enacting reasonable public health measures.

According to Deputy County Attorney Jonathan Pinkney, Resolution 2020-96 mandates everyone in Pima County over the age of 5 must wear a face mask over their nose and mouth, unless they have a qualifying exemption or are able to maintain physical distance. The Board passed the resolution on Dec. 4, 2020.

Pima County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia said on Tuesday that the board has authority, through an Arizona statute (ARS11-251), to adopt provisions to preserve the health of the county, and the Arizona Supreme Court recognized counties “may enact public health measures that are equal to or more restrictive than ADHS.” Garcia called Ducey’s order an “overreach on the part of the executive.”

Garcia admits the arguments being made are similar to those made in court when local bars sued the county for the mandatory curfew passed on Dec. 15, but believes they stand on “solid ground.” and brushed off concerns about a legal challenge. “Bring it on,” Garcia said.

In consultation with Huckelberry, the county attorney and Garcia, County Health Department Director Dr. Theresa Cullen will continue to instruct health inspectors to enforce the mask mandate in establishments that prepare or offer food. The resolution also covers any establishment open to the public.

Any establishment found to be violating the resolution can be fined $500 per infraction, and potentially face suspension or revocation of its operating permits. Individuals can also be fined $50 per infraction, although the county has not fined anyone so far, said Garcia in a press briefing Tuesday.

“We believe that most operators in this county are doing the right thing," said Garcia. "We believe that most citizens in Pima County are doing the right thing, and we want to continue to give them the tools that they need to be able to continue to demand that people use masks when they are in public spaces."

Despite the continued vaccination effort and the approval of a federal POD that could vaccinate another 210,000 residents, Garcia noted that last week in Pima County, the number of COVID cases increased last week for the first time in 10 weeks.

For the week ending March 21, Garcia reported Pima County had 16 more cases of COVID-19 than the previous week. The previous week saw one more death than the previous week and case numbers would likely change because of the reporting lag.

Garcia said the bump was only one death, "but that person mattered to their family, and any loss of life, which is avoidable, is something that we need to mitigate against.”

Garcia noted the concern over the growing number of COVID-19 variants in the county and Arizona at large, with the South African, UK, Brazilian, and California variants found in Arizona, which may be more transmissible and potentially more harmful.

“One of the silver linings here, though, is that the same kinds of mitigation measures that allow us to prevent transmission for the normal garden variety COVID are going to be the same ones that allow us to prevent transmission with these potentially more infectious more transmissible variants,” said Garcia.

By enforcing a mask mandate, Garcia hopes to “buy time” for Pima County as they continue in their vaccination effort.

"It’s unfortunate that the governor has taken this action, which other people are interpreting as the pandemic is over,” Garcia said.

While he’s sick of it too, Garcia asks people to continue to follow these “relatively easy measures” until the county has achieved a level of community immunity with at least 75 percent of the population vaccinated. "We are not there yet and we cannot pretend that the behaviors that we're engaged in public don't impact the health and well-being of others,” Garcia said.

The county has vaccinated about 28.2 percent of Pima County residents with 455,873 vaccines administered. Garcia estimates that within another two to three weeks, county officials will achieve a level of vaccination that will allow the community to breathe.

“Our goal here isn’t to fight with the governor or fight with the state," Garcia said. "Our goal is to try to do the best thing that we know how to do for the people of Pima County. We will continue to do that and we hope that we will have a healthier community because of that.

Adults older than 16 now eligible for appointments at state vaccine centers; Pima County expands eligibility to anyone with chronic medical condition

All adults older than 16 are now eligible for appointments at state vaccination PODs.

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

New appointments for the UA POD will open up at 11 a.m. on Fridays, with the Arizona Department of Health Services announcing the number of appointments opening up on Fridays via a Wednesday Twitter post.

As of last week, Pima County expanded COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to anyone 55 and older and anyone older than 16 with at-risk circumstances.

Anyone living with a high-risk medical condition or disability, experiencing homelessness or living in a group setting, or receiving in-home or long-term care can get the vaccine. Some of the high-risk medical conditions include cancer, chronic kidney disease, heart conditions or compromised immunity.

Those in high-risk jobs will also be eligible.

Although the state has expanded eligibility to anyone over 16, Pima County's guidelines had to be limited, said Dr. Theresa Cullen, Health Department director.

“Our decisions are based on the current vaccination rates for 55 and up (which is at 42%), as well as our commitment to ensure ongoing access to vulnerable populations,” Cullen said last week. “We anticipate appointments will be filled quickly and as we move these groups, we look forward to being able to align with the state's recommendations within the next six weeks.”

You can register for your vaccine appointments at a state POD by visiting pod, 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 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

The University of Arizona’s antibody testing can determine if you have had COVID and now have antibodies. To sign up for testing, visit

—with additional reporting from Austin Counts, Christina Duran, Jeff Gardner and Mike Truelsen

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