Your Southern AZ COVID-19/Wildfire AM Roundup for Saturday, June 13: Cases Jump by 1500 Again Today; State Total Tops 34K; Record Number in Hospitals; Bighorn Fire Grows To 10K Acres, Evacuation Order in Catalina Area

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Arizona jumped past 34,000 as of Saturday, June 13, with a jump of 1,540 new cases reported this morning, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County, which saw 261 new cases reported this morning, had 3,889 of the state's 34,458 confirmed cases.

A total of 1,144 people have died after contracting the virus, including 223 in Pima County.

In Maricopa County, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases hit 17,791.

Because symptoms can take as long as two weeks to appear after exposure to the virus (while some people can remain entirely asymptomatic), health officials continue to urge the public to avoid unnecessary trips and gatherings of more than 10 people, especially if you have underlying health conditions, and have advised people to cover their faces with masks in public.

Although Gov. Doug Ducey told Arizonans that the state "was clearly on the other side of this pandemic" when he lifted his stay-at-home order on in mid-May, Arizona hospitals continue to see a rise in the number of people hospitalized with COVID symptoms, as well as more people visiting emergency rooms. This morning's Arizona Department of Health Services report shows that as of yesterday, a record 1,412 Arizonans were hospitalized, a jump of 403 (or 28 percent) from June 1.

For the second day in a row, more than 900 people arrived at emergency rooms with COVID-like symptoms on June 13, according to the report. Previous to June, the number of people seeking help in emergency rooms never topped 667, but the daily number hasn't dipped below 800 since June 5. A record number of 447 Arizonans were in ICU units.

click to enlarge Your Southern AZ COVID-19/Wildfire AM Roundup for Saturday, June 13: Cases Jump by 1500 Again Today; State Total Tops 34K; Record Number in Hospitals; Bighorn Fire Grows To 10K Acres, Evacuation Order in Catalina Area (2)
AZ Dept of Health Services
A record number of COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in Arizona yesterday.

Despite the rising number of hospitalizations, Gov. Doug Ducey said earlier this week there's no reason to be concerned about hospital capacity.

Along with growing cases and increasing hospitalizations, Arizona is trending in the wrong direction in one of the CDC gating criteria that Ducey used to justify lifting the stay-at-home order on May 16. Ducey then noted that CDC gating criteria included two weeks of falling cases or two weeks decreasing positive cases as a percentage of total tests. Total cases continue to rise, as does the number of positive cases as a percentage of total tests. On May 17, the percentage of positive tests to total tests was 6 percent; on May 24, it was 9 percent; on May 31, it was 12 percent, according to figure on the ADHS website.

In a contentious June 11 conference, Ducey acknowledged that trend was moving in the wrong direction and promised the state would continue to monitor that number. But he said the idea of enacting a new stay-at-home order was not under discussion by his administration.

Ducey pushed back at local and national media reports that suggested that the rising cases, increased hospitalization and reversal of CDC gating criteria trends meant that Arizona was moving in the wrong direction. He called reports that the healthcare system was nearing capacity as "misinformation."

He said Arizonans would have to learn to live with the virus.

"This virus is not going away," Ducey said. "There is not a cure for this virus. There is not a vaccine for this virus. So this virus is something we need to learn to live with. And we need to make sure we are protecting the most vulnerable in our society. Those are folks in a certain age bracket with underlying health conditions and at-risk conditions and we're going to continue to do that every single day until there is a vaccine."

Ducey pointed to a letter from the Health System Alliance of Arizona released yesterday that stated: "As representatives of the largest health systems representing 80% of care provided in this state, we would like to assure the public that we have available bed capacity and surge plans are in place to continue to serve the people of Arizona. We are well prepared to manage an increase in patient volume."

"In addition, the utilization of the surge line remains an effective tool in ensuring that patients are evenly distributed among hospitals in order to avoid capacity issues at any one facility," the letter added. "Our surge plans will also create additional capacity for patients if needed. Arizona’s network of medical care is strong, stable and prepared."

Ducey sidestepped numerous questions about whether his administration had requested the letter, saying that he had not personally requested and then saying that the letter got accurate facts to the public.

Banner Health officials warned last week that unless current trends changed, they would have to activate a reserve bed plan as their ICU beds were nearly full.

Ducey, who has rarely been seen with a mask or face covering and whose administration has neglected to include the advice in various health advisories it has sent out, said he did wear them while shopping when he cannot physically distance from others by at least 6 feet. He advised Arizonans to wear them if they felt comfortable doing so.

He insisted that he did not lift his stay-at-home too early.

"This has always been about saving lives, but it's also been about saving livelihoods in the state of Arizona," Ducey said. "We put the stay-at-home order there so we could prepare for what we are going through now, and we are prepared for it."

In other news:

• As hotshot crews and aircraft continue to battle the Bighorn Fire in the Santa Catalina Mountains, The Pima County Sheriff's Department yesterday ordered the evacuation of neighborhoods in the area of East Golder Road and East Rollins Road. People living in the area south of East Hawser Street and east of North Lago del Oro Parkway were told to be "set" to evacuate if conditions worsen. Here is a map of the area.

Meanwhile, residents in the Catalina Foothills north of Ina Road between First Avenue and Alvernon Way were allowed to return their homes as an earlier evacuation order was lifted. However, everyone living between First Avenue and Alvernon Way north of Ina Road and everyone living between Alvernon Way and Sabino Canyon Road north of Skyline Road have been warned to remain ready to go should they need to leave their homes. Portions of Oro Valley east of Oracle Road and north of Magee Road are also warned to be "set" to evacuate.

An American Red Cross shelter is available at CDO High School, 25 W. Calle Concordia, in Oro Valley.

The fire has grown to 10,387 acres, according to an incident report. Firefighters spent the night conducting a burnout operation near East Golder Ranch to protect area homes from the advancing blaze. They were expected to continue that work today until temps get too high to continue

The fire is now established in upper Ventana Canyon and Romero Canyon and is expected to continue growing toward Window Rock. Firefighters are working above the fire to try to stop the fire's progression toward Mount Lemmon and Summerhaven. Aircraft will be dropping water and retardant today.

Catalina State Park has been closed and firefighters have established a restricted area bounded along the Coronado National Forest boundary south and east to the northeast corner of the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, northeast along the Forest boundary to its northeastern terminus at Sabino Creek, Sabino Creek north to the Arizona Trail, the Arizona Trail northwest to the junction with Romero Trail, and the Romero Trail northwest to Catalina State Park Nearly 400 fire personnel and multiple aircraft are fighting the Bighorn Fire.

Fire crews remind the public that drones are prohibited over the fire area, as firefighting aircraft are busy and must be grounded in drones' presence. On June 5 a drone incursion resulted in "an investigation with the drone operator being issued a violation notice."