Your Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Tuesday, June 30: Hospitals on the Edge; Ducey Orders Bars, Gyms, & More Closed for a Month, Delays Start of School Year to Aug. 17; Cases Soar to 79K; Please Stop Drinking Hand Sanitizer

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Arizona crossed the 79,000 threshold as of Tuesday, June 30, after the state reported a record 4,682 new cases this morning, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

That high number reflects cases that would have been reported yesterday but were not because of a technical glitch.

Pima County had seen 8,004 of the state's 79,215 confirmed cases.

Cases in Arizona have nearly quadrupled since June 1, when the state had 20,123 confirmed cases.

A total of 1,632 people have died after contracting the virus.

Maricopa County has more than half the state's cases, with the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases hitting 48,592.

As COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket, Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday ordered the closing of bars, gyms, movie theaters, water parks and river tubing activities for at least one month.

Ducey also said Arizona would delay the start of the school year by two weeks to Aug. 17.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman did not join Ducey for the press conference, but released a separate statement.

"What Arizona's numbers will look like by Aug. 17 remains unclear," Hoffman said. "But one thing is for certain: If efforts are not taken across the entire state to curb the spread of this virus, our schools will only continue to face complications in reopening their facilities."

Ducey warned that Arizonans will see more cases of COVID-19 before the numbers begin to decrease.

“Our expectation is, our numbers will be worse,” said Ducey, who repeated his call for Arizonans to mask up when in public, stay home as much as possible, wash their hands and keep a physical distance from others.

The Department of Health will also activate its “crisis standards of care” and cancel non-emergency surgeries as more COVID patients fill hospitals, ICU beds and emergency rooms.

Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik, who planned to ask fellow council members to close bars and limit restaurants to take-out service at their next meeting, said Ducey's decision was overdue but the right one.

"Our health care workers are exhausted," Kozachik said. "Our health care system is under stress. Families are separated at some of the most emotional and sensitive times of their lives. While my preference would have been to see a resumption of the original Stay at Home conditions, closing bars and adding these new conditions approximate what I had intended for tomorrow's meeting. The Governor indicates he will continue to look at conditions and will remain flexible going forward. My hope is that his responsiveness is more timely than it has proven to be in the past, whether that amounts to more tightening, or loosening once again."

Banner Health Chief Clinical Officer Marjorie Bessel announced over the weekend that the hospital network, which treats about half of Arizona's hospitalized COVID patients, was reaching its limit as it activated its surge plan and balanced its load of patients among its facilities. Banner is calling in additional health care workers from around the country.

"We are absolutely experiencing a surge of COVID-19 patients that are coming in for care, and we are starting to get full," she said. "We do have plans, however, to continue to increase our capacity so that we can meet the demand of the communities and all the people that we serve in there. But we do ask everybody to follow all the things that we can do to try and reduce the curve of spread."

Elsewhere on the COVID-19 beat:

• The Arizona Interscholastic Association announced all school-related athletics and activities will be delayed until Aug. 17, in response to Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order Monday pushing back the start date of all state schools.

As a result, high school fall sports practice will be delayed until Arizona schools reopen mid-August and the fall competition season will also be postponed. AIA officials have not yet announced when the competition season will resume.

“We couldn’t be more disappointed about the information that just came out regarding our schools,” Executive Director David Hines said. “However, we understand that the most pressing concern is to ensure our student-athletes can return to school in the safest way possible.”

The AIA is continuing to assess how to reschedule the season statewide to help the AIA Executive Board have a better idea of when fall competition will begin. If revised timelines for the fall interfere with the winter sports season, those schedules will also be addressed at a later date, according to AIA officials.

• The University of Arizona Athletics Department announced that it would pause the process of bringing student-athletes back to campus because of the surge of cases in Arizona and the increasing stress on the healthcare system.

"Out of an abundance of caution, we have made this decision with campus and community partners to pause our re-entry process," said Vice President and Director of Athletics Dave Heeke. "The health, safety and wellbeing of all members of our community is our number one priority. We will continue to work in conjunction with campus partners and our local government agencies to support and evaluate a safe and healthy return to campus."

The UA Athletics Department had started bringing student-athletes back to campus on June 15. So far, only one athlete among the 83 on campus has tested positive for COVID-19.

 • As the number of cases spread, some local restaurants, such as DOWNTOWN Kitchen and Cocktails, BK Carne Asada and Hot Dogs, Fire N' Smoke, and Little Anthony's Diner, are closing their dining rooms and returning to takeout service. “I love my customers and I love my staff, and I’m concerned,” Little Anthony's owner Tony Terry said. “It was an easy decision until things calm down and we get a handle on it. I really think every responsible business owner in Tucson should do the same thing."

• The City of Tucson postponed this year's Independence Day fireworks display on "A" Mountain. City officials cite growing concerns over large gatherings during the pandemic as well as the potential for wildfires as reasons for the postponement. Local firefighters have been battling the Bighorn Fire in the Catalina Mountains since early June after lightning ignited dry brush on the mountain's backside.

"With the recent large spike in COVID-19 case and the current administrative order to postpone reopening our City facilities to August 3, postponing the event at this time is the right decision to ensure that we stay on track slowing the spread and for our planned reopening," City Manager Mike Ortega said. "It is our intent to hold the event sometime in the future, when we can all safely come together, to celebrate coming out of this time of crisis and our return to a new normal for our society."

Oro Valley and Marana have also canceled fireworks display.

• Arizonans are being asked to please stop trying to drink hand sanitizer to get drunk. Since June 1, Arizona’s poison centers have received 14 cases related to people drinking homemade liquor and hand sanitizers in pursuit of intoxication. While hand sanitizer does contain the same type of alcohol found in alcoholic drinks (ethanol) and can reach 140 proof, it can also contain the toxic alcohol methanol if improperly made.

According to Banner Health, all 14 cases resulted in an adult being hospitalized in critical condition.

“Methanol can contaminate illicit alcohols, resulting in blindness and organ failure. Even small amounts can be fatal without immediate treatment,” said Dr. Daniel Brooks, medical director of the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center.

According to Banner, some of the callers reported they ingested homemade hand sanitizer in hopes of receiving intoxicating effects. However, this can prove fatal.

• Major League Baseball announced last week it would start playing a 60-game season on July 23, with players reporting for training this week. Among the changes: Both leagues will adopt the designated hitter and in extra-innings game, teams will be granted a runner on second base at the start of each half-inning. Players will be tested for COVID-19 every other day and some players will sit in the stands or another area. Players will also be required to wear masks in the dugout. Not allowed: fist bumps, high fives, fans in stands.

• The tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, announced this week that visitors from Arizona and eight other states with skyrocketing COVID-19 infections would have to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Earlier this year, Arizona required people from those northwestern states to do a similar quarantine here while they had high numbers of coronavirus patients.

This post has been updated to note that Marana canceled its plans for a fireworks display and to correct a date.Wed