Your Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Friday, July 17: 3,900 New Cases Reported Today; AZ May Be on High Plateau; Ducey Extends Eviction Moratorium, Says "Certainty" Is Coming on Schools Reopening; More News of the Week

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Arizona climbed past 138K as of Friday, July 17, after the state reported 3,910 new cases this morning, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County had seen 13,058 of the state's 138,523 confirmed cases.

A total of 2,583 people have died after contracting the virus.

Maricopa County has 91,863 of the state's cases.

Hospitals remain under pressure. The report shows that 3,466 COVID patients were hospitalized yesterday in the state.

A total of 1,574 people visited ERs yesterday.

A total of 944 COVID-19 patients were in ICU beds yesterday.

Gov. Doug Ducey said yesterday that mask-wearing and steps to reduce the interaction of people in large groups had resulted in some positive signs regarding the spread of the virus. He cited a slight drop in the percentage of people visiting emergency rooms exhibiting COVID-like illness in the last week, as well as a drop in the total number of cases on a week-to-week basis (although all test results may not be in yet for tests in recent days).

Your Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Friday, July 17: 3,900 New Cases Reported Today; AZ May Be on High Plateau; Ducey Extends Eviction Moratorium, Says "Certainty" Is Coming on Schools Reopening; More News of the Week (2)
AZ Dept of Health Services
Arizona's epic-curve is seeing a decline in the number of cases reported by day, although all data from recent days is not yet available.

Ducey also said Arizona R-naught number—or the number of people with the virus who are infecting other people—dropped to .98 as of yesterday, meaning the infection rate has slowed. An R-naught of less than 1 means the virus is in decline.

But Ducey warned the state still had a long road ahead in the fight against the deadly virus.

"I want people to get their heads around this," Ducey said. "There's no end in sight today."

Figures from Pima County show that on a week-by-week basis, cases here may have also peaked in the week ending June 27, with new cases reaching 2,300. Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry noted that the two subsequent weeks could still be adjusted upwards, but during the week ending July 4, 2,092 cases were reported. But Huckelberry noted that the week ending July 4, the county saw a peak of 37 deaths so the county is far from out of the woods.

click to enlarge Your Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Friday, July 17: 3,900 New Cases Reported Today; AZ May Be on High Plateau; Ducey Extends Eviction Moratorium, Says "Certainty" Is Coming on Schools Reopening; More News of the Week
Pima County
The number of new cases may have peaked in Pima County following the issuance of a mask mandate, but it's a high plateau and numbers could still resume a climb if residents don't mask up, stay home as much as possible and follow other health advice such as frequent hand washing.
While coronavirus cases may be on a slight downward trend in the state, Ducey urged Arizonans to stay vigilant by staying at home and wearing masks while practicing social distancing when out in public to continue the fight against the virus.

"There will be no victory laps," said Ducey, who praised measures set by local authorities to require masks were helping reduce spread, but once again stopped short of a statewide mandate.

Ducey announced a new executive order extending the residential eviction moratorium until Halloween and said he was in conversations with school leaders and university presidents about the best way to move forward with the school year. The previous residential eviction moratorium was set to expire on Saturday, July 25.

Ducey announced $650,000 would go to various community action agencies to improve staffing and help administer rental assistance programs for Arizonans statewide. Approximately $1.2 million in assistance has been distributed to Arizona renters since late March, according to the Governor's Office. Additionally, Ducey announced $5 million to establish the Foreclosure Prevention Program to help residential landlords dependent on rental income to survive.

“This will provide targeted relief to homeowners who rely on income from tenants to help them avoid foreclosure,” said Ducey, who added that state and local governments have directed more than $80 million on programs to assist renters and prevent homelessness.

Ducey also announced continued expansion of coronavirus testing in the upcoming months.

Arizona Senate Democrats released a joint statement following Ducey's press conference urging him to enact a statewide mask mandate, implement more contact tracing and provide more PPE for hospitals and schools.

"We are disappointed again that the Governor refuses to take stronger actions to curb the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus," the lawmakers wrote. "More aggressive action is needed now to safely open schools in the future no matter what date is picked. Senate Democrats again urge the Governor to take swift and preventative action. Time is not an ally. Act now, Governor to curtail the spread. Lives, not just livelihoods, are at stake."

The Senate Democrats' statement praised Ducey for extending the eviction moratorium "after significant pressure from legislators, Arizonans, and other advocates.

"No one should face homelessness in the middle of a pandemic and triple-digit heat," they wrote. "This is just one of the many measures Senate Democrats have been advocating for several weeks to help Arizonans."

But they said more aggressive action would be needed to allow schools to open next month.

Ducey alluded to the upcoming school year but did not commit to the Aug. 17 "aspirational" date he declared as the start of the school year last month, suggesting that the start of the school year could be further delayed.

“Arizona will be open for learning," Ducey said. "That is what’s in front of us in the coming school year. I know people want clarity around this and we’re going to provide clarity. I’m going to tell you our kids are going to be learning in the fall.”

While Arizona schools are tentatively scheduled to open on Aug. 17 (with some districts starting online programs sooner), Ducey said he plans on meeting with Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman and other state educational stakeholders in hopes of providing more complete information on the gameplan for reopening schools next week.

“We’re going to our best to conduct the positive educational year that we can and I’ll be providing the most specific guidance that I can,” Gov. Ducey said. “Expect that next week and that will provide additional flexibilities to our school around the state.

Some public health experts say that community transmission is too widespread to safely open the schools as planned. Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, warned last week that while states that have taken more aggressive steps earlier to slow the spread of the virus will be able to reopen schools, he can’t see the same thing happening in Arizona.

“We just have too much community spread,” Humble said.

Humble, who headed up the Arizona Department of Health Services in the administration of former Gov. Jan Brewer, said there are two main factors to consider when opening schools in the fall: mitigation measures alongside the level of community spread within a school district.

“School districts have some really creative folks and I think they could put some effective mitigation measures in place that would make it safe to open schools if we didn’t have so much community spread,” Humble said. “Because we have the level of community spread that we have, I just don’t see that mitigation measures, which help but don’t eliminate transmission, are going to be adequate to make it a safe environment for teachers and schools and families.”

The state needs a much lower percentage of positive tests and much more hospital capacity before schools can safely reopen, Humble said.

Local school districts are planning a mix of "distance learning" online instruction and in-school instruction when school starts next month. Unlike in spring, when schools moved online following spring break, districts are planning stricter instructional time designed to mirror traditional in-person classes.

Tucson Unified School District will launch online classes for all students starting Aug. 10 but in order to avoid losing state funding, schools will open on Aug. 17 for any student who wants to attend class in person. However, students will be in "learning spaces" where they will do the same distance learning program that students who remain home will experience. Teachers may or may not be in the classroom, which may instead include a monitor to keep an eye on the students who are in the room. All TUSD families will receive laptops. More details here.

Other local school districts have announced a mix of online and in-person options but say they will be ready to go to online-only if Ducey delays the start of the school year once again.

In other COVID-19 news this week:

• Pima County has launched a new testing site at Kino Event Center. After the registration portal opened, this week's slots filled up in 10 minutes, according to a memo from Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. The testing and lab costs are estimated to reach $30 million to $40 million, which will come out of the county's portion of the federal CARES Act.

Huckelberry noted that while Ducey announced last week that he would expend testing in the Phoenix area, the Governor's Office has not made any plans to support further testing in Pima County.

• Pima County announced last week that officials have contracted Maximus Health & Services, Inc. to boost contact tracing efforts in the region. Maximus is an outsourcing company that provides business support to government health agencies such as the Pima County Health Department. They will hire about 150 local residents to perform “extensive” contact tracing as directed by the health department, in order to “alert, educate and isolate” individuals who have come in close contact with a person who is COVID-19 positive.

Pima County said this partnership will dramatically expand its current contact tracing system, at a time when Arizona is experiencing a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases.

“One of the key components of our response to this outbreak that has been difficult to ramp us has been the hours and hours of people power it takes to do this type of work and the systems it takes to support that staff,” said Health Department Director Dr. Theresa Cullen in a statement. “We look forward to being able to quickly take advantage of the experience, capacity, and planning Maximus will be able to provide.”

Pima County will pay $10 million to Maximus for a six-month contract, which has “multiple extension options” in three-month increments that will allow the county to reduce or expand the scope of the contact tracing system as needed.

• Ducey's handling of the virus has caused a steep drop in his job approval numbers, according to a poll released yesterday by OH Predictive Insights. Pollster Mike Noble noted that in his latest survey of 600 likely 2020 voters, conducted July 6-7, showed that voters had sharply turned on Ducey's handling of the coronavirus, with his approval dropping to 35 percent with 63 percent disapproval. In a similar June poll, 59 percent of Arizonans approved of Ducey's handling of the coronavirus and only 37 disapproved.

“As goes the coronavirus so goes Doug Ducey’s fortunes among Arizona voters,” said OHPI Chief of Research Mike Noble in a prepared statement. “When the outbreak was being contained, Ducey was popular. Now that cases are on the rise, his disapproval rating is too.”

Those numbers echo a survey by the COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public's Policy Preferences Across States, which showed that Ducey had gone from 57 percent approval in early May to 32 percent in late June.

• Finally, if you'd like a mask, the City of Tucson will give away roughly 56,000 washable ear-loop cloth masks this Saturday, July 18, in six locations across the city. The drive-thru mask giveaway will have a location in each of the city's six wards with about 8,000 masks available at each location. Individuals and families can drive up to the site and pick up as many masks as they need, while supplies last. You can also walk up or ride your bike through the line. This event is strictly for distributing masks and is not a COVID-19 testing site.

Individuals and families can go to any of the following locations between 7 and 10 a.m. this Saturday to pick up masks.

Ward 1: Mission Manor Park, Main Parking Lot, 5900 S. 12th Ave.

Ward 2: Udall Recreation Center, Main Parking Lot, 7200 E. Tanque Verde Road

Ward 3: Donna Liggins Recreation Center, Main Parking Lot, 2160 N. Sixth Ave.

Ward 4: Lincoln Park, Main Parking Lot, 4325 S. Pantano Road

Ward 5: El Pueblo Recreation Center, Main Parking Lot, 101 W. Irvington Road

Ward 6: Ward 6 Council Office, 3202 E. First St.