Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Tuesday, April 20: Ducey bans ‘vaccine passports,’ lifts mask mandates in schools; Here’s how to set up vaccine appointments; new cases remain on a plateau

Posted By on Tue, Apr 20, 2021 at 8:35 AM

With 702 new cases reported today, the total number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases rose past 855,000 as of Tuesday, April 20, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County, which reported 51 new cases today, has seen 114,345 of the state’s 855,155 confirmed cases.

With 40 new deaths reported this morning, a total of 17,193 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 2,386 deaths in Pima County, according to the April 20 report.

A total of 562 coronavirus patients were in the hospital as of April 19. That’s roughly 11% of the number hospitalized at the peak of the winter surge, which reached 5,082 on Jan. 12. 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 969 people visited emergency rooms with COVID-like symptoms on April 19. That number represents 41% 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 155 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on April 19, 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.

Ducey nixes ‘vaccine passports’

Gov. Doug Ducey yesterday banned state and local governments and some businesses from requiring vaccination status.

“The residents of our state should not be required by the government to share their private medical information,” said Ducey. “While we strongly recommend all Arizonans get the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s not mandated in our state—and it never will be. Vaccination is up to each individual, not the government.”

Ducey’s new executive order would prohibit state or local governments from requiring individuals to release their vaccination status in order to enter any building or receive a service, permit, license or work authorization.

Businesses receiving public funds from the state and under a state contract cannot require documentation to provide a service.

However, the order does not limit health institutions, state or local health departments, or even child care centers, schools or universities from requiring vaccination status. Long-term care, health care institutions and other entities that collect vaccination documents can still do so under the current state law. It also does not limit an individual from requesting the release of their own vaccination records.

Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said the order “represents more divisive, political grandstanding from Governor Ducey against Arizona cities and is purely symbolic in nature. The City of Tucson did not have any plans to implement any of the actions that the executive order purports to pre-empt. Had the governor asked, we would have happily shared this information with him."

The University of Arizona has not yet mandated vaccination passports or required students to provide documentation in order to attend, but President Robert C. Robbins continued to advocate for vaccine passports on campus before and after learning of the order during the Monday briefing.

“My hope is that at the universities and public schools will be able to not only trust that people have been vaccinated but verify,” said Robbins. More info here.

Ducey ends mask order in public schools

Citing guidance from the CDC, Gov. Doug Ducey and Arizona Health Director Cara Christ yesterday rescinded an executive order that required face masks in public schools, although he said K-12 traditional and charter schools could decide on their own to continue requiring the masks.

“Nearly 2 million Arizonans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with many teachers and school faculty now fully vaccinated after being some of the first in line for vaccine prioritization,” said Governor Ducey. “Teachers, families and students have acted responsibly to mitigate the spread of the virus and protect one another, and our school leaders are ready to decide if masks should be required on their campuses. We will continue to work with public health professionals and Arizona’s schools as more students return to the classroom and our state moves forward.”

Ducey’s decision brought a sharp retort from Arizona Public Health Association Executive Director Will Humble, who served as Arizona health director in the Brewer administration.

Humble said Ducey and Christ were being dishonest about CDC guidelines.

“That statement is a lie and they know it,” Humble wrote. “CDC’s guidance and recommendations for schools makes it clear that they urge schools to use “universal and correct usage of masks” in the K-12 school setting.”

Humble called Ducey and Christ “a piece of work. They couldn’t even wait for the remainder of the school year to finish with the existing mask policies in place. Instead, they rescinded with only 23 more days of school left in most districts. They have really made some tremendously bad policy decisions over the last year. Now we can add another one to the list.”

Humble said it was “shameful” that Ducey and Christ kept Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman in the dark over the plan to rescind mask mandates.

Hoffman also blasted the decision.

“Today’s abrupt removal of the mask mandate in schools is just one example in a long time of decisions that have resulted in Arizona’s embarrassing response to a virus that has claimed over 17,000 lives and impacted thousands more,” Hoffman said in a prepared statement. “

Hoffman pointed out that children under 16 are not eligible for the vaccine and the masking requirements have helped schools reopen in recent months.

“While vaccines hold the promise of a return to normalcy, letting up on mitigation strategies now just increases risk of transmission at a time when we should be doing everything possible to keep students and their families safe,” Hoffman said. “Today’s announcement destabilizes school communities as they end what has arguably been the most challenging year for education. I encourage school leaders and board members to work with their communities to make transparent, evidence-based decisions that build trust in the safety of our schools.”

New appointments available daily; Pima County transitioning to indoor vaccination sites, closing Banner South drive-thru clinic next month

The state of Arizona expects new first-dose appointments to open daily this week at the University of Arizona vaccination site, so they urged those 16 and older who are interested in an appointment to regularly check podvaccine.azdhs.gov.

Meanwhile, as temperatures rise, Pima County officials are shifting to indoor vaccination sites to avoid making staff and volunteers endure long days in triple-degree temperatures.

Pima County opened a new indoor vaccine site this week at the Kino Event Center, where the county had earlier been doing COVID testing. That site is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Register at azdhs.gov.

The county has also opened an indoor vaccination POD at El Pueblo Center, 101 W. Irvington Road, which is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. No appointment is necessary.

The drive-through POD at Banner-South Kino Stadium, 2500 E. Ajo Way, is now offering appointments between 7:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. and will close permanently on May 14.

As of Monday, April 19, 377,894 people in Pima County had received at least one shot of the virus, accounting for 36.2% of the population. A total of 270,545 people were fully vaccinated.

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

Register for an appointment at a Pima County POD at 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.

Get tested: Pima County has free COVID testing

Pima County is continuing to offer a number of testing centers and pop-up testing sites around town, including the northside Ellie Towne Flowing Wells Community Center, 1660 W. Ruthrauff Road. Schedule an appointment 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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