The Pima County Board of Supervisors passed a plan to increase COVID testing availability during their meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 18.
The Board unanimously voted to increase PCR testing in Pima County with an additional 1,000 tests per day through Paradigm Laboratories.
“I am concerned with our PCR testing site at the airport,” Supervisor Sharon Bronson said. “We are seeing that we’ve got some issues at TAA (Tucson Airport Authority) with staff coming down with COVID and we’ve got people in line who have COVID. So I would think as part of the implementation of the new testing we need to find other sites than the airport.”
Cases continue to rise in Pima County due to the Omicron variant. The Arizona Department of Health Services reported 3,136 new cases in Pima County on Jan. 11. This is the highest number of cases reported in one day since the pandemic began.
Supervisor Adelita Grijalva said she had noticed that testing appointments through the county website were being scheduled two days out. She raised concerns this would make it more difficult for children to get back into school under the new test-to-stay policy.
Bronson added that constituents reported testing sites had a two-hour waiting period, even with appointments.
Low testing availability has also impacted the local healthcare system.
“People, because they can't find a testing site, are going to ERs to ask to get COVID tested and that is incredibly disruptive for the healthcare system,” Supervisor Matt Heinz said.
The additional PCR tests will be offered at the Kino Event Center across the street from the Abrams Public Heath Building, where the county had set up a testing site in 2020. That site later transitioned to a vaccination center.
After a choppy opening week and the long weekend, the Arizona Legislature got into full swing yesterday, and already COVID-19 is a problem.
As committees cranked through bills (including a contentious first vote on once again banning Critical Race Theory in schools), leadership had to sub out lawmakers to fill the committees, at least in part because of the virus. It’s going to be a long year of musical chairs as House and Senate leadership attempt to keep committees full, despite the raging pandemic.
Republicans need every single lawmaker present to pass legislation on party lines in either chamber, but as the Republic’s Mary Jo Pitzl notes, if lawmakers want to do their jobs and vote on bills, they’ll have to come into the building.
That wasn’t the case last year, and the new rule provides no meaningful advantage to lawmakers or the public — it is, like many decisions at the capitol, pure politics. (FWIW, it was also pure politics when the Democrats initially opposed remote voting on a limited basis at the onset of the pandemic so Republicans could muster the votes necessary to pass a budget.)
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Friday launched a new website for Americans to request up to four free COVID-19 tests per household.
The administration is buying 1 billion at-home rapid COVID-19 tests, and Americans will be able to begin ordering the tests online on Jan. 19 at COVIDtests.gov.
This is part of the administration’s effort to curb the spike of the omicron coronavirus variant that has overwhelmed hospitals and schools.
Tests should ship via the U.S. Postal Service between seven and 12 days after they are ordered, senior administration officials said on a call with reporters.
“Testing is a critical tool to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” a senior administration official said.
The White House said tests should be used by individuals who begin to have COVID-19 symptoms; after five days of coming into close contact with someone with COVID-19; or if gathering indoors with someone who is at risk for a severe disease or is unvaccinated. Children 4 and under are not eligible for vaccines.
The initial 500 million tests are expected to cost $4 billion, a senior administration official said.
The Biden administration also announced that starting Monday, private insurance providers will cover the cost of up to eight at-home COVID-19 tests per person per month.
On Thursday, Biden said that in addition to free tests, Americans would also get free high quality masks.
The administration also aims to make sure members of some communities the hardest hit by COVID-19 will have a hotline they can access if they do not have internet access or have difficulty ordering tests online. The number to call for help is not available yet.
Arizona reported 18,783 COVID-19 cases Wednesday, the latest in a surge of infections that experts say is stressing a state health care system that is “not well suited” to take on more cases.
The state has been averaging almost 12,000 new cases a day since Jan. 1, according to data from the Arizona Department of Health Services, as the new, more-contagious omicron variant has raced through the state. COVID-19 deaths in the state are averaging 64 a day this month, and totaled just under 25,000 Wednesday.
The rate of infection is “going up, and it’s going up fast,” stretching health care workers to their limit, said Dr. Josh LaBaer.
“We have fewer health care workers than we used to,” said LaBaer, executive director of Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute. “There are empty beds but there is no one to staff the beds.”
Officials at Valleywise Health said the health care system has seen the number of COVID-positive patients in its emergency departments nearly double in the last month.
More than 25,000 Arizona have now died after contracting COVID-19.
The virus has killed 25,002 people as of today, including 3,273 in Pima County, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
The grim milestone came one day after the state reported a record 18,783 new cases of COVID-19 as the Omicron variant continues to rapidly spread across the state. The previous record was 17,234 cases, set on Jan. 3, 2021.
While Omicron appears to be less severe than the Delta variant, especially among vaccinated people, the surge of cases is still putting pressure on Arizona’s overwhelmed hospitals and ICU units.
This week, Dr. Marjorie Bessel, the chief clinical officer for Banner Health in Arizona, said the health network was seeing a steady uptick in admissions in recent weeks and healthcare workers are contracting the virus, leading to staffing crunches at Banner Health.
COVID hospitalizations are on an upward climb thanks to the Omicron variant and healthcare workers are contracting the virus, leading to staffing crunches at Banner Health.
As a result of the staffing crunch, some Banner urgent care locations are closed, causing longer wait times at other urgent care facilities, according to Dr. Marjorie Bessel, Banner Health chief clinical officer, who gave a media briefing on Tuesday, Jan. 11.
Banner’s staffing shortage reflects a national shortage of healthcare workers due to the surge of Omicron.
Banner is following the crisis CDC guidelines when allowing health care workers to return to work after being infected with the COVID virus. All healthcare workers have to remain out of the workplace for five days from the date of their positive tests and are screened for symptoms before returning to work process. Individuals that are asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic may return to work.
In addition, Banner is using outside contracted workers at its hospitals during this surge to compensate for the staffing shortage.
With crowded emergency rooms and long waits, Bessel said Banner is using ERs for life-threatening issues and asked Arizonans to consider primary care doctors and urgent care clinics for non-emergency needs.
She also urged Arizonans to get vaccinated and receive a booster shot because it’s “the best way to prevent serious COVID illness that requires hospital level care.” She also said people should mask up when indoors, preferably with a fitted KN95 mask, stay home when feeling sick and to get tested when experiencing symptoms.
COVID treatment options remain limited. Sotrovimab, a monoclonal antibody treatment for those who test positive, is in short supply and will require a doctor’s recommendation for patients. Due to limited supply, not all eligible patients will receive the treatment.
Oral antivirals such as paxlovid and molnupiravir, which have received emergency use authorization by the FDA for patients that meet the clinical requirements, are also in limited supply and are being distributed to roughly 32 retail pharmacies across the state. These medications also require a referral.
Bessel said Omicron has yet to peak but she predicted it will be in weeks to come based on how the virus has behaved in other countries, where the descent of the variant has been just as rapid as its spread.
“We continue to learn through the pandemic," Bessel said. “Banner Health, as we have been throughout the entire pandemic, continues to operate and evaluate our business on a day-to-day basis and will make appropriate responses based on the needs of our community.”Correction: An earlier version of this story suggested all Banner Urgent Care clinics were temporarily closed. Only some of the clinics have temporarily closed.
"While peak occupancy will not reach prior levels, the Delta, and now Omicron, waves have placed much higher levels of chronic stress on our health system," Gerald wrote. "We have so far seen 146 consecutive days with a combined occupancy >2000 patients whereas the summer 2020 and winter 2021 waves saw 57 and 98 days, respectively. Until last week, we had experienced 37 consecutive days with >3000 combined occupancy whereas the summer 2020 and winter 2021 waves saw 35 and 78 days, respectively. After a 10-day respite over Christmas-New Years, we are once again >3000 combined occupancy (last 4 days)."Gerald—whose opinions are his alone, not those of the UA Zuckerman School of Public Health—says too many elected leaders are pursuing business-as-usual policies in the face of the wave and “the outcome will be more death and disability than necessary, more death and disability than others in similar circumstances will experience."
Thanks to the fast-spreading Omicron variant, Arizona reported one of its highest single-day COVID-19 case totals on Friday, Jan. 7, with 14,888 new COVID-19 cases across the state.
That’s the second-highest number of single-day cases reported since the pandemic began, exceeded only by the 17,234 on Jan. 3, 2021.
Here in Pima County, there were 1,701 new COVID-19 cases in Pima County on Jan. 7, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. By comparison, the single highest day in Pima County in November was 792 cases.
Pima County Health Department Director Dr. Theresa Cullen said this week that the county’s “epi curve”—the visual graphing of cases per day—continues to climb.
“What we need is that curve to go down,” she saidCullen said the next several weeks will be crucial and she hopes to see the curve go down later in January.
Genetic sequencing of COVID cases in Pima County during December revealed that Omicron was only 7.8% of cases. However, Cullen said that county health officials “did see a significant increase in Omicron for the days of 12/19 to 1/1 and about 40% of what was sequenced from the county was Omicron.”
Thus far, health officials say the Omicron variant is highly transmissible but causes less severe illness, especially among the vaccinated, and fewer hospitalizations.