With 849 new cases reported today, the total number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases topped 818,000 as of Tuesday, March 2, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Pima County, which reported 83 new cases today, has seen 109,684 of the state’s 818,670 confirmed cases.
With 81 new deaths reported today, a total of 16,060 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 2,227 deaths in Pima County, according to the March 1 report.
The number of hospitalized COVID cases statewide has declined in recent weeks, with 1,202 coronavirus patients in the hospital as of March 1. That’s less than a fourth 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.
WASHINGTON – The House voted to permanently ban new mining claims on more than 1 million acres around Grand Canyon National Park, with supporters calling protection of the landmark canyon a “moral issue.”
The bill would make permanent a current mining moratorium that is scheduled to run through 2032. Supporters said a permanent ban is needed because the Grand Canyon is too valuable to risk possible damage from future mining.
“Protecting our environment is not a matter of choice or political preference,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, in a statement from his office. “It’s the only path forward for our country and our way of life.”
Grijalva, the lead sponsor of the canyon bill, said earlier this month that “the Grand Canyon should be the least controversial” place on the planet to consider protecting from mining.
Looks like Councilman Steve Kozachik has a challenger in this year’s Democratic primary.
Miranda Schubert, an academic advisor at the University of Arizona who has also served as a DJ on KXCI community radio and hosted a feminist-oriented live talk show at Club Congress, announced today that she was challenging the two-term councilman in the Aug. 3 primary.
Schubert said in a statement that she wants to see the council do more to provide affordable housing, policies that lead to higher wages and alternative policing strategies.
“The majority of Tucson’s residents aren’t people who are preoccupied with the resale value of their home,” she said. “They’re families like mine, working for the institutions and small businesses that drive Tucson’s economy, but feeling ignored and left out of whatever future our leadership is imagining for the city.”
She added that increasing rents were creating a housing affordability crisis.
“You cannot tell people in this city that rents are too low or actually affordable when they have evidence in their daily life to the contrary,” she said.
Kozachik said that Schubert “was welcome to take part in the democratic process.”
“These jobs are first and foremost about addressing the day-to-day concerns of our constituents,” Kozachik added. “I believe she’s going to learn that my office has a pretty damn good record with constituent services and being accessible and responsive. Continuing that personal touch is a big reason I’m doing this one more time.”
Kozachik was elected to the Tucson City Council as a Republican in 2009 but switched to the Democratic Party after fighting with GOP members of the Arizona Legislature. He won reelection as a Democrat in 2013 and 2017.
Petition signatures are due for candidates on April 5.
There’s still some question as to whether Tucson will have an election this year, as the city is still awaiting an Arizona Supreme Court decision regarding a state law that would force the city to move elections, including this year’s contest, to even years to correspond with presidential and midterm elections.
Additional vaccine appointments beginning Sunday for the University of Arizona POD will be made available soon, said UA President Dr. Robert C. Robbins at a press conference this morning.
Robbins asks the public to continue to check for appointments and reminded the public that the number of appointments available is directly proportional to the number of vaccine doses.
The university is scheduled to receive 16,380 doses this week and has distributed more than 35,000 doses, said Robbins.
The POD continues to run from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, but with an increase in vaccines, the hours may be expanded to become a 24/7 POD by the end of March or the beginning of April, said Arizona Health Director Dr. Cara Christ during a news conference last week.
Robbins said the issue is a supply problem, as with the expanded hours, the vaccine distribution center could deliver 6,000 to 7,000 doses per day with 24-hour service.
"As soon as the state can give us the vaccine that we need, we'll gladly go 24/7, seven days a week, until we get as many people vaccinated as soon as possible," said Robbins.
As vaccines become available at pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, Dr. Richard Carmona, UA's reentry task force director, hopes people will go to where they can get a vaccine as quickly as they can.
“The more places we have that allow vaccines to be given is clearly part of our value proposition to accelerate herd immunity,” said Carmona.
PHOENIX – For the second time since 2019, the Arizona Department of Corrections has been found in contempt for its failure to follow health care guidelines designed to protect prisoners.
In a ruling issued Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver fined the Arizona Department of Corrections Rehabilitation & Reentry $1.1 million for neglecting health care guidelines the department agreed to follow in 2015. The fine is to be paid this month.
This is the second time the department has been found in violation of these regulations. The original lawsuit, filed in 2012 on behalf of over 33,000 inmates by the American Civil Liberties Union and Perkins Coie LLC, cited concerns about the lack of care within Arizona’s 48 correctional facilities, whether it be comprehensive health care, dental or mental health care. Through the settlement, 112 benchmarks were created and agreed upon. To avoid fines, the department would have to remain 70% compliant with the settlement.
In 2019, however, the department was held in contempt for failing to meet enough of those benchmarks. Lawyers for the plaintiffs say that equates to inadequate health care for those in the system who have needs that go beyond basic care.
“Within correctional facilities, we see individuals with cancer and heart disease as well as drive-by mental health encounters that can last anywhere from two to three minutes,” said David Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “These incarcerated individuals need to go and see outside specialists, and are more often than not not taken to those specialists.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections confirmed officials had received the order from the court and would be reviewing it with their attorneys.
The Department of Corrections is required to report to the ACLU each month with documentation of the care inmates receive through its health care providers. Through these documents and the department’s medical records, the ACLU has been able to repeatedly determine noncompliance in the system, Fathi said.
The new $1.1 million fine only applies to February. To avoid being fined for the whole year – which could be up to $17 million – the state must be able to show cause for this month as well as why they should not be fined for the whole year.
“A large part as to why this is happening is a lack of awareness in the Legislature,” said Daniel Barr, ACLU co-counsel and an attorney with Perkins Coie. “We’ve met with several legislative bodies and many of them had never even heard of the case.”
In Barr’s opinion, this lack of awareness is due in part to the blatant disregard by lawmakers as well as the news media.
“There are 36,000 prisoners in the state of Arizona right now, and these people have the constitutional right to health care just like everyone else,” Barr said. “The Eighth Amendment right to this care is extremely basic, and these people aren’t even getting that much.”
Fathi said the February fine will be used to fund a systemwide study to identify the root causes of the persistent negligence. Some key factors, he said, are the understaffing of correctional facilities, as well as the political unpopularity of criminal offenders.
“These people have been abused, neglected and victimized,” Fathi said. “I haven’t seen a lot of attention on these individuals from elected officials. It all comes down to a lack of resources and attention.”
Fathi and Barr find the lack of action in the nine years since the original suit appalling.
“It is historic to hold a state agency in contempt not once, but twice in three years,” Fathi said. “It‘s a rebuke of the state’s failure to acknowledge the need for change.”
With 1,039 new cases reported today, the total number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases closed in on 818,000 as of Monday, March 1, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Pima County, which reported 113 new cases today, has seen 109,601 of the state’s 817,821 confirmed cases.
A total of 15,971 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 2,216 deaths in Pima County, according to the March 1 report.
The number of hospitalized COVID cases statewide has declined in recent weeks, with 1,241 coronavirus patients in the hospital as of Feb. 28. That’s less than a fourth 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 952 people visited emergency rooms on Feb. 28 with COVID symptoms, a big drop from 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 382 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Feb. 25, less than a third of the record 1,183 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.
How to get a vaccine
While supplies are limited, Pima County is providing vaccination shots to people 65 and older as well as educators, first responders and healthcare workers. Those who qualify in Pima County’s 1B priority group of eligible vaccine recipients can register for a vaccine at www.pima.gov/covid19vaccineregistration or by calling 520-222-0119.
A state-run vaccination site opening at the University of Arizona was not accepting first-dose appointments as of Monday, March 1. When accepting new appointments, the site follows the state’s current vaccine eligibility, which includes those 65 and older, educators, childcare workers and protective service workers.
As the state-run POD, or point of distribution, registrations will go through ADHS’s website. When online registration resumes, you can make an appointment at at pod vaccine.azdhs.gov, and those who need assistance can call 1-844-542-8201. More details here.
Eight CVS pharmacies throughout Arizona began offering COVID-19 vaccines starting last week.
Patients must register in advance at CVS.com or through the CVS Pharmacy app. People without online access can contact CVS Customer Service: (800) 746-7287. Walk-in vaccinations without an appointment will not be provided. Per the state of Arizona, eligible individuals for the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program are people age 65 and over, health care workers, protective services, teachers and childcare providers.
As more supply becomes available, the company will expand vaccine access through an increasing number of store locations and in more Arizona counties.
Cases continue decline, health officials say relaxed restrictions on horizon
With the winter wave of coronavirus cases receding and more Pima County residents getting vaccinated, local officials say they may soon loosen COVID-related restrictions on crowd sizes and similar measures meant to slow the spread of the disease.
Dr. Theresa Cullen, head of the Pima County Public Health Department, said last week that as long as current trends continue, she expected that she’d release a new Public Health Advisory that would offer relaxed recommendations in the near future.
“If you go look at the Public Health Advisory, it still recommends that people stay in groups of 10, that would be a thing we would loosen up,” said Cullen. “We loosen up the concept of having spectators at external sporting events, which I know is near and dear to many people.”
However people should still expect the “three W's” (wear a mask, wash your hands, and wait) to remain in place as well as a physical distance of six feet, said Cullen.
Dr. Cara Christ, the head of the Arizona Department of Health, said that the state will also look at easing restrictions on large gatherings and other COVID-related regulations if the numbers continue a downward slide.
“We'd normally wait for all of the metrics to get down into the yellow for two weeks before we would start loosening some of those things,” said Christ.
Dr. Joe Gerald, an associate professor at the UA College of Public Health who puts out a weekly tracker of COVID trends, noted that for the week ending Feb. 21, at least 9,646 COVID cases were diagnosed in Arizona, which represented a 16% drop in the previous week’s numbers. That’s the lowest weekly number since Nov. 1 and marked six straight weeks of decline, but Arizona still had the 17th highest rate of transmission in the nation, according to the CDC.
In his weekly report released over the weekend, Gerald noted that the number of COVID patients in both general-ward and ICU beds dropped by 20 percent compared to the previous week. “While Arizona hospitals’ safety margins remain low, they are slowly improving,” Gerald wrote.
He urged people to continue wearing masks in public, avoid social gatherings, maintain physical distance from people not in your household and spend less than 15 minutes in indoor spaces, but said people could likely resume lower-risk activities once rates fall below 100 new diagnoses per 100,000 residents per week.
While the week ending Jan. 17 remained Arizona’s deadliest with 1,021 people dying after contracting COVID, Gerald estimated that the coronavirus death toll would be above 200 a week for another two to four weeks and falling below 200 a week by the end of March.
A total of 1,093 Pima County residents tested positive for COVID-19 in the week ending Feb. 21, which was a 34% drop from the 1,666 cases in the previous week. Pima County saw 104 new cases per 100,000 residents in the week ending Feb. 21, according to Gerald.
As of last Friday, Feb. 26, more than 1 million Arizonans have received at least the first dose of the vaccine with over 1.6 million doses administered, according to Dr. Cara Christ, head of the Arizona Department of Health Services.
With an expected increase in vaccine doses with the FDA’s approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Christ anticipates expanding the pool of people eligible to receive a vaccine at a state point of distribution sometime this month.
“If it's approved, we anticipate receiving the (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine in early March,” Christ said.
Christ said while the state was still working out the details, she expected to get between 50,000 and 60,000 Johnson & Johnson doses. Because people only need one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it would be ideal for hard-to-track populations.
“This would be a great thing for doing mobile vaccination, especially out in rural communities,” said Christ. “You only have to go once and they are considered a completed dose, so they don't have to go back for that second dose.”
An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Pima County residents in the 65+ group remained to be vaccinated as of last Friday, Feb. 26, said Dr. Theresa Cullen, head of the Pima County Health Department. Pima County had administered more than 250,000 vaccinations, with roughly 173,000 people receiving the first dose and roughly 80,000 people fully vaccinated.
However, expanding the pool of people eligible for the vaccine will depend on balancing second shots for those who have received their first one with scheduling first shots for 1B patients.
“We are in the process of working with both TCC and TMC which are our large efficient pods, as well as Banner to figure out how to appropriately get the first shots into the system,“ said Cullen
For the current week, the health department requested 40,000 doses independent of the UA POD, and received 24,000 Moderna doses, along with 17,550 Pfizer doses for Banner North and UMC for a total of 41,550 doses, said Cullen.
Get tested: Pima County has free COVID testing
After the state agreed to provide additional funding to keep testing centers open through at least March 2, 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), 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, Christina Duran, Jeff Gardner and Mike Truelsen