Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Posted By on Wed, Jan 13, 2021 at 3:45 PM

click to enlarge NIAID/CREATIVE COMMONS
NIAID/Creative Commons

As Pima County prepares to provide COVID-19 vaccines to a much wider segment of the population this week with a limited number of vaccines on hand, the county health department has announced its plan to prioritize the vaccination of specific segments of the hundreds of thousands of individuals who qualify.

“We are in a very vaccine-constrained environment right now, but we do not want to be in an administrative and distribution constrained environment,” County Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen said at a press conference today. “So we challenged ourselves - it was only 10 days ago - to figure out how to give 300,000 vaccines in three months.”

Phase 1B of vaccine rollout includes prioritized education and protective service workers, essential workers in fields like transportation and government, adults in congregate settings with high-risk medical conditions and individuals over 75.

However, the 1B phase will be divided into sub-segments of 1B.1 and 1B.2. The 1B.1 group includes those over 75, teachers and childcare providers and prioritized protective service workers such as law enforcement and emergency response staff.

Those who qualify under 1B.1 can register to receive vaccines as the registration websites become available. According to Pima County Communications Director Mark Evans, the first two registration sites for Banner North and Tucson Medical Center will go live Thursday. Both locations prioritize the 75+ population.

In addition to the Banner North and Tucson Medical Center vaccination centers used to provide vaccines to group 1A beginning in December, Pima County is adding Kino Stadium, the University of Arizona, Tucson Convention Center and Rillito Racetrack as vaccine sites.

The county asks those in the 75+ age group to receive their vaccinations at Banner North, Kino Stadium or Tucson Medical Center. Teachers should go through The University of Arizona and protective service workers should register at the Tucson Convention Center.

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Monday, January 11, 2021

Posted By on Mon, Jan 11, 2021 at 4:30 PM

click to enlarge COURTESY NASA
Courtesy NASA
The partnership between the University of Arizona and NASA is growing even stronger with the space agency selecting Carlos Vargas, a postdoctoral researcher in UA's Steward Observatory, to lead a new space telescope mission.

The Aspera mission will study the evolution of galaxies by sending a small telescope—or SmallSat—into space to examine the gas between galaxies in ultraviolet light. Costing $20 million, the mission is planned to launch in late 2024. The telescope is expected to be roughly the size of a mini fridge.
click to enlarge Carlos Vargas
Carlos Vargas

"As telescopes have become more sensitive and have allowed us to discover more exotic types of gases, we now realize there is tons of stuff in between galaxies that connects them," Vargas said in a press release. "Galaxies are undergoing this beautiful dance in which inflowing and outflowing gases balance each other."

According to UA, the Aspera mission's goal is to provide the first-ever direct observations of a certain portion of “circumgalactic medium”—the low-density gas that permeates and surrounds galaxies, and in some cases even connects them.

Aspera is one of four missions in NASA’s new Pioneers Program, which is intended to conduct “compelling astrophysics science at a lower cost using smaller hardware than missions in the Explorers Program.” Principal investigators of the other three missions hail from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Marshall Space Flight Center, and the University of Chicago.

NASA describes the Pioneer missions as an experiment, as the agency has never solicited proposals for these kinds of astrophysics studies at such low cost and with such tight constraints.

“The principal investigators of these concept studies bring innovative, out-of-the-box thinking to the problem of how to do high-impact astrophysics experiments on a small budget,” said Thomas H. Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Each of the proposed experiments would do something no other NASA telescope or mission can do, filling important gaps in our understanding of the universe as a whole.”

Posted By on Mon, Jan 11, 2021 at 1:38 PM

click to enlarge The virus is widespread. - BIGSTOCK
BigStock
The virus is widespread.

The latest COVID-19 report from a University of Arizona professor shows an increase in already alarming coronavirus numbers as the state continues to set records for weekly case counts. Those numbers are likely even higher in reality because of a backlog in reporting.

Dr. Joe Gerald, who creates weekly coronavirus epidemiology reports based on Arizona Department of Health Services data, had little good news to share in this week’s report.

“The [coronavirus] is mowing through Arizona like a sharpened scythe,” Gerald wrote in the report. “Fatalities are stacking up like cordwood in advance of a long winter. Barring intervention, daily cases and fatalities will double or perhaps quadruple before the outbreak collapses under the weight of natural, not vaccine-induced, immunity later this spring.”

The week ending Jan. 3 saw 56,108 new COVID-19 cases statewide, a 35% increase from the week prior.

Coronavirus testing positivity reached 35% that week, setting a new record for the state.

Arizona has also surpassed its deadliest week from the summer surge in cases, and the week ending Dec. 20 now holds the highest number of COVID-19 deaths at 709. Gerald predicts weekly death counts will exceed 700 in the coming weeks.

Gerald said testing capacity and uptake remains lower than levels observed on Dec. 20, indicating the reported numbers are likely higher in reality.

“The test positivity rate for traditional . . . PCR testing set another record this week at 35% positivity,” he wrote. “This indicates a substantial mismatch between testing capacity and demand and supports the notion that viral transmission is growing faster than case counts alone would suggest, that our viral control measures are wholly inadequate, and our testing capacity compared to other regions is poor.”


Friday, January 8, 2021

Posted By on Fri, Jan 8, 2021 at 2:00 PM

GREELEY, Colorado – Record-breaking wildfires in 2020 turned huge swaths of Western forests into barren, sooty scars. Those forests store winter snowpack that millions of people downstream rely on for drinking and irrigation water. But with such large and wide-reaching fires, the science on the short-term and long-term effects to the region’s water supplies isn’t well understood.

To understand, and possibly predict, what happens after a river’s headwaters goes up in flames, researchers are descending on fresh burn scars across the West to gather data in the hopes of lessening some of the impacts on drinking water systems.

On a sunny winter morning, a team of researchers led by Colorado State University hydrologist Stephanie Kampf roamed through the steep drainage of Tunnel Creek, a tributary to the Poudre River west of Fort Collins. Much of the area burned last summer and fall during the Cameron Peak Fire.



Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Posted By on Wed, Jan 6, 2021 at 7:09 AM

PAONIA, Colorado – A.J. Carrillo farms 18 acres near Hotchkiss, Colorado, in the high desert of the Western Slope about an hour southeast of Grand Junction. When he irrigates his peach orchard, water gushes from big white plastic pipes at the top of the plot and takes half a day to trickle down to the other end of his 5-acre orchard.

Carrillo is planning to convert his Deer Tree Farm from flood irrigation, which has been commonly used in the West for more than a century, to a new and much more efficient style of irrigation – microsprinklers.

Changing irrigation methods is something more and more Western Slope agricultural producers, from small to large, are doing. With help from federal funding, they’re able to apply less water to grow their crops and make their land more resilient to drought. And more important, the switch also means that fewer pollutants run off their fields into the Colorado River, keeping it cleaner all the way down to Mexico.

Salt and selenium occur naturally in the shaley soils of the Gunnison Basin, leftovers of a prehistoric inland sea. Both substances are harmful to plants, fish and humans. Flood irrigation of fields allows water to penetrate deep into the soil, where it dissolves out salt and selenium. The contaminated water then runs off into ditches that eventually empty into the Gunnison River, and from there into the Colorado. The result is that farms in the Gunnison Basin send more than 360,000 tons of salt into the Colorado River each year.

“So we have a serious ecological issue going on here,” Carrillo said.



Thursday, December 31, 2020

Posted By on Thu, Dec 31, 2020 at 8:59 AM

With more than 7,718 new cases reported today, the number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases now stands higher than 520,000 as of Thursday, Dec. 31, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County, which reported 1,085 new cases today, has seen 69,522 of the state’s 520,207 confirmed cases.

A total of 8,864 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 1,064 deaths in Pima County, according to the Dec. 31 report.

The number of hospitalized COVID cases statewide continues to soar as the virus has begun to spread more rapidly, putting stress on Arizona’s hospitals and surpassing July peaks. ADHS reported that as of Dec. 30, 4,564 COVID patients were hospitalized in the state. The summer peak of 3,517 hospitalized COVID patients was set on July 13; that number hit a subsequent low of 468 on Sept. 27.

A total of 2,304 people visited emergency rooms on Dec. 30 with COVID symptoms. That number is down slightly from yesterday's 2020 peak of 2,341.

A total of 1,028 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Dec. 30, down from yesterday's peak of 1,076. The low was 114 on Sept. 22.

One out of every 1,000 Pima County residents has died from COVID-19; Hospitals overwhelmed

Pima County Public Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen shared troubling details on the accelerated transmission of COVID-19 throughout the county amid a new public health advisory at a virtual press conference Wednesday.



Posted By on Thu, Dec 31, 2020 at 7:03 AM

WASHINGTON – The numbers can be numbing. And that’s exactly what health officials fear.

More than a half-million Arizonans have contracted COVID-19 and more than 8,700 have died from it so far, according to state data. The disease is surging again, with one week this month seeing an average of 7,770 new cases a day, soaring past the previous high set in July of a seven-day average of 3,482 new cases.

Hospital capacity is being stretched to the breaking point, with COVID-19 patients taking up a record 61% of beds in the state’s intensive care units as of Tuesday, and health care workers struggling under the strain.

But news of the disease, while prominent, does not command the headlines or the attention it did just months ago.

“The phenomenon some call COVID fatigue is real, and it’s dangerous,” said Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, in a late-November video update.



Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Posted By on Wed, Dec 30, 2020 at 3:58 PM

click to enlarge Pima County Public Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen speaks at a Dec. 30 virtual press conference. - PIMA COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT
Pima County Health Department
Pima County Public Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen speaks at a Dec. 30 virtual press conference.

Pima County Public Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen shared troubling details on the accelerated transmission of COVID-19 throughout the county amid a new public health advisory at a virtual press conference Wednesday.

Public health officials expect to see more coronavirus cases in December than the eight months between March and October combined.

Currently, one out of every 1,000 Pima County residents has died from COVID-19.

Amid confirmation of a more contagious strain of COVID-19 that originated in the UK being identified in Colorado, Cullen said Arizona health officials are actively looking for the coronavirus variant and have not found any cases in the state, although “that could change quite rapidly,” she said.

Cullen said the county’s hospital beds and ICU capacity remains “very limited,” and many facilities are relying on the Arizona Surge Line to transfer patients based on their necessary level of care.

This morning, there were five ICU beds and 42 medical surge beds available in Pima County. Meanwhile, more than 80 patients were waiting in emergency rooms for admission, Cullen said.



Posted By on Wed, Dec 30, 2020 at 9:59 AM

With more than 5,200 new cases reported today, the number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases topped 512,000 as of Wednesday, Dec. 30, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County, which reported 758 new cases today, has seen 68,437 of the state’s 512,489 confirmed cases.

A total of 8,718 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 1,039 deaths in Pima County, according to the Dec. 30 report.

The number of hospitalized COVID cases statewide continues to soar as the virus has begun to spread more rapidly, putting stress on Arizona’s hospitals and surpassing July peaks. ADHS reported that as of Dec. 29, a record 4,526 COVID patients were hospitalized in the state. The summer peak of 3,517 hospitalized COVID patients was set on July 13; that number hit a subsequent low of 468 on Sept. 27.

A record number of 2,341people visited emergency rooms on Dec. 29 with COVID symptoms. That number had previously peaked at 2,008 on July 7; it hit a subsequent low of 653 on Sept. 28.

A record number of 1,076 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Dec. 29. The summer’s record number of patients in ICU beds was 970, set on July 13. The subsequent low was 114 on Sept. 22.

Healthcare leaders continue to plead with public to stay home as much as possible as healthcare system is overloaded

The Pima County Health Department shared a number of sobering statistics about COVID-19 this week:

• There is an all-time high of 1,512 medical/surgical beds in use in Pima County.

• Med/Surg bed availability hit an all-time low with 2%, or just 33 beds available in the county.

• On Monday morning there were 96 patients waiting for an inpatient bed, 62 of whom were COVID-19 patients.

• There are 669 hospital patients who are COVID positive.

• ICU beds usage hit an all-time high with 364 ICU beds in use, 198 are COVID-19 patients, the most ever. Despite an increase of 20 ICU beds in the past week, only 2% (9 beds) remain available. Hospitals continue to implement their surge plans to add ICU capacity.

• COVID-19 patients account for 54% of ICU bed and ventilator usage.

• There was a record high of 27 COVID-19 ICU admissions in a single day in the past 24 hours.

• On Christmas Day, County hospitals reported 19 COVID-19 deaths.

The health department is asking residents to stay home and minimize activities that involve contact with people outside of their households, stay physically distanced and practice mask-wearing and frequent sanitization.

“This isn’t just about COVID anymore and whether you think it’s a real problem or not. The patients filling these hospitals are absolutely real and if you have a heart attack, or if you get into a car accident, or your appendix bursts, there is a real possibility that you may not get the timely care you need to save your life if we don’t get control of this virus,” said Dr. Theresa Cullen, the director of the Pima County Health Department who herself contracted COVID-19 earlier this month. “People are dying yet many of those deaths are preventable if the people of this community stay home, wear their masks and avoid people they don’t live with as much as possible.”

Pima County under curfew

Pima County remains under a mandatory 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew in an attempt to combat Southern Arizona's rising number of coronavirus cases.

Penalties for a nonessential business found violating curfew range from having their business permit suspended or revoked.

The mandatory curfew will stay in place until coronavirus infection rates drop below 100 per 100,000 people, according to county officials.

While businesses will now face losing their operating permits if they don't comply with the curfew, it "carries no penalty associated with the individual, as it would be difficult to enforce a curfew against individuals without the cooperation of law enforcement," Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry wrote in the memo regarding the memo.

More details here

Get tested: Pima County has free COVID testing

Pima County offers a number of testing centers around town.

You’ll have a nasal swab test at the Kino Event Center (2805 E. Ajo Way) the Udall Center (7200 E. Tanque Verde Road) and downtown (88 E. Broadway).

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

In addition, the Pima County Health Department, Pima Community College and Arizona State University have partnered to create new drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites at three Pima Community College locations. At the drive-thru sites, COVID-19 testing will be offered through spit samples instead of nasal canal swabs. Each site will conduct testing from 9 a.m. to noon, and registration is required in advance. Only patients 5 years or older can be tested.

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

The University of Arizona’s antibody testing has been opened to all Arizonans as the state attempts to get a handle on how many people have been exposed to COVID-19 but were asymptomatic or otherwise did not get a test while they were ill. To sign up for testing, visit https://covid19antibodytesting.arizona.edu/home.

—with additional reporting from Austin Counts, Jeff Gardner, Nicole Ludden and Mike Truelsen

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Posted By on Tue, Dec 29, 2020 at 7:10 AM

The ancient people of western Utah’s Danger Cave lived well. They ate freshwater fish, ducks and other small game, according to detritus they left behind. They had a lush lakeside view with cattails, bulrushes and water-loving willows adorning the marshlands.

But over time, the good life became history. As heat and drought set in, the freshwater dried up, and the ancients were forced to survive by plucking tiny seeds from desert shrubs called pickleweed. Archaeologists know this from a thick layer of dusty chaff buried in the cave’s floor.

It might be ancient history, but science tells us that the past could also become the future. In fact, thanks to global warming, regional climate patterns linked to extended periods of heat and drought that upended prehistoric life across the Southwest thousands of years ago are setting up again now.

“The benefit of any kind of paleoclimate data is that it tells us what nature is capable of,” said Matthew Lachniet, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

The climate risk across the Southwest is actually growing, based on Lachniet’s recent study of a different cave about 200 miles across the Great Basin, which covers most of Nevada and the western half of Utah.

His geochemical data from Leviathan Cave in Nevada shows that drought can last 4,000 years – findings that Lachniet’s team cross-checked against paleoclimate data from the Arctic and tropical Pacific. In short, the story in the cave data suggests a worst-case scenario that could – and probably should – guide planning throughout the Southwest, home to 56 million people.