Southern Arizona Weekly COVID-19 Roundup

What we've covered this week

THE LOCAL NUMBERS. The number of Arizona's confirmed novel coronavirus cases topped 179,000 as of Tuesday, Aug. 4, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Pima County had seen 16,809 of the state's 180,505 confirmed cases. A total of 3,845 Arizonans had died after contracting COVID-19, according to the Aug. 4 report. Arizona hospitals remain under pressure although the numbers of patients has declined from a peak earlier this month. ADHS reported that as of Aug. 3, 2,024 COVID patients were hospitalized in the state, down from a peak of 3,517 on July 13. A total of 1,111 people visited ERs on Aug. 3 with COVID symptoms. The number of ER visits hadn't hadn't dipped that low since June 26, when 1,077 people with COVID symptoms visited ERs. That number peaked at 2,008 on July 7. A total of 638 COVID-19 patients were in ICU beds on Aug. 3. The number in ICUs peaked at 970 on July 13.

GRIJALVA TESTS POSITIVE. Congressman Raúl Grijalva has tested positive for the coronavirus. Grijalva, 72, had been in self-quarantine in Washington after being in contact during hearings with Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, who tested positive last week. Grijalva, a Democrat who has represented Southern Arizona since he was first elected to Congress in 2002, said he felt fine and was showing no symptoms. In a prepared statement, Grijalva was critical of Republican members of Congress who refuse to wear masks. "While I cannot blame anyone directly for this, this week has shown that there are some members of Congress who fail to take this crisis seriously. Numerous Republican members routinely strut around the Capitol without a mask to selfishly make a political statement at the expense of their colleagues, staff, and their families. I'm pleased that Speaker Pelosi has mandated the use of masks at the Capitol to keep members and staff safe from those looking to score quick political points. Stopping the spread of a deadly virus should not be a partisan issue."

MASK UP! Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry noted there's evidence that Pima County's ordinance requiring masks or face coverings is lowering COVID-19's spread in the region. Huckleberry pointed to data showing that two key coronavirus trends measured by week began moving in a positive direction after the county passed the ordinance: The number of positive tests peaked at 2,351 the week after the mask ordinance was passed and dropped to 1,393 two weeks later; and the percentage of people visiting hospitals with symptoms of COVID or pneumonia had dropped from nearly 12 percent to less than 4 percent. Despite those positive trends, Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik warned that the virus remains widespread. In his weekly newsletter, Kozachik pointed out that Pima County saw 7,747 confirmed cases of COVID in July. That's nearly as many cases as the 7,780 cases the county saw in total over the previous four months of March, April, May and June.


Despite a recent downward trend in cases, County Administrator Huckelberry said last week that the virus remained too widespread to allow schools to reopen for in-person instruction on Aug. 17. In a July 28 letter to all Pima County public school superintendents, Huckleberry cited overall high case numbers in July, a space crunch in local hospitals and other factors as reasons to hold off on reopening schools for in-person instruction. Huckelberry, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia and Pima County Health Department Director Dr. Theresa Cullen believe the earliest start date for in-person instruction is after Labor Day, Sept. 7, or possibly early October. Huckelberry said this recommendation should not prevent schools from opening facilities for "at-risk youth" as intended in Gov. Ducey's executive order. He suggests all safety precautions be taken such as wearing face masks, doing wellness checks, observing physical distancing guidelines and sanitizing surfaces. Due to the nature of contact sports, county health professionals are suggesting schools shift fall semester sports to the spring 2021 semester. Any extracurricular activities that can safely take place with precautions are allowed.

GRIDLOCK IN DC. Senate Republicans rolled out a new $1 trillion federal aid package but squabbles within the GOP caucus and with the White House are making it difficult to square the details. White House officials have been negotiating with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell steering clearing of talks earlier this week. The Senate has largely ignored the HEROES Act, a $3 trillion relief package passed by the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year. Last week, the extra $600 a week in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation that out-of-work Arizonans have been receiving expired. Gov. Ducey, who plans to travel to DC this week, has asked Arizona's congressional delegation to consider a number of provisions to help Arizona in the latest coronavirus package, including an extension of extra money for people who are out of work as a result of the pandemic. ■

—By Jim Nintzel with additional reporting from Kathleen B. Kunz, Austin Counts, Jeff Gardner and Tara Foulkrod.