With nearly 12,000 new cases reported today, the number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases topped 420,000 as of Monday, Dec. 14, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Pima County, which reported 1,801 new cases today, has seen 53,448 of the state’s 420,248 confirmed cases.
A total of 7,358 Arizonans had died after contracting COVID-19, including 800 deaths in Pima County, according to the Dec. 14 report.
The number of hospitalized COVID cases statewide continues to soar upward as the virus has begun to spread more rapidly, putting stress on Arizona’s hospitals and surpassing July peaks. ADHS reported that as of Dec. 13, 3,677 COVID patients were hospitalized in the state, setting a new record. The previous peak of 3,517 hospitalized COVID patients was set on July 13; that number hit a subsequent low of 468 on Sept. 27.
A total of 1,799 people visited emergency rooms on Dec. 13 with COVID symptoms. That number, which hit a new record of 2,166 last week, had previously peaked at 2,008 on July 7; it hit a subsequent low of 653 on Sept. 28.
A total of 829 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Dec. 13. The number of COVID patients in ICUs peaked at 970 on July 13 and hit a subsequent low of 114 on Sept. 22.
Hospitals are reaching capacity; health officials urge people to avoid socializing over holidays
The Pima County Health Department discussed the critical nature of COVID-19 throughout the county at a press conference on Friday, Dec. 10, after it issued a joint letter signed by 26 representatives from the health department, hospitals and fire districts warning residents of disastrous consequences if the spread of the virus continues at its current rate.
Hospitals across the county have less than 2% of their ICU beds available. At the start of the weekend, they had only seven open ICU beds, Pima County Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen shared at the press conference.
Pima County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia said the county’s experiencing “very significant” numbers of deaths similar to those seen in the July surge in cases. In terms of hospitalizations, numbers have far surpassed levels seen in the summer peak.
Judy Rich, the president and CEO of Tucson Medical Center, said on the outside, the hospital shows serene Christmas lights and often barren parking lots. The parked cars are diminishing as visitors aren’t allowed to visit their sick loved ones, and behind the glowing lights, the hospital’s staff is fighting an unprecedented number of cases while facing high levels of burnout.
“The staff are tired, and they are giving everything that they have. It is imperative that we take this seriously. This is a serious disaster that is invisible to many,” Rich said. “But when it hits you, when it becomes personal, you'll understand it differently. I would just ask you to project to that and take the steps that you need to to stay safe and help our community get through this.”
The Chief Medical Officer of Banner University Medicine, Dr. Gordon Carr, said although the hospitals he oversees are using all available resources to handle the influx of cases, they are also struggling.
“We are bringing in more staff and expanding our physical capacity. We are redeploying planning staff to assist in the hardest-hit areas. We are doing everything we can to provide essential medical services,” Carr said. “Unfortunately, however, we are facing ongoing, uncontrolled spread of the virus in our community. If we are not able to slow the spread soon, the strain on the healthcare system could become too great. At this critical moment, public health interventions have never been more important.”
Even as Christmas and New Year's Day approach, the health department is asking everyone to stay home and avoid gatherings.
"We know that’s a lot to ask this time of year, but the holidays will come again; sit this one out. Use the internet and telephones to communicate with family and friends," the joint letter from the health department and healthcare officials said.
Curfew in City of Tucson continues
A curfew in the city of Tucson from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. continues through Dec. 23.
On Nov. 23, the Pima County Health Department announced a voluntary overnight curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. every day until Dec. 31—but it’s not enforceable.
The curfew prohibits everyone from being in public places with the following exceptions:
Emergency response personnel
Traveling to and from work
Attending religious services
Caring for a family member
Seeking medical care
Fleeing dangerous circumstances
Traveling to perform or receive essential functions
City Attorney Mike Rankin specified traveling to essential businesses such as grocery, home goods and hardware stores is allowed. Travel to restaurants for consumption off-premises is also allowed by means of take out, delivery, curbside and drive-thru food orders.
“The curfew does not order the closure of any business at any particular time, instead, what it does is it regulates when people can be in public places, which includes traveling on the public streets,” Rankin said. “It does not, as presented, prevent people from traveling to or from any essential activity or essential functions, even during the curfew hours.”
Offenders of the curfew will be subject to a civil infraction that holds a fine of up to $300.
Vaccine on the way
Arizona is on track to receive 383,750 COVID-19 vaccines by the end of December, according to a news release from Gov. Doug Ducey’s office.
The first shipment is expected to arrive this week, according to the release.
The vaccines will go to Pima and Maricopa counties in the first week of distribution, with Pima receiving 11,000 doses and Maricopa receiving 47,000.
The state’s distribution plan for the vaccines prioritizes health care workers, residents of long-term care facilities, educators and vulnerable populations. The federal government ships COVID-19 vaccines based on states’ populations, and the release says “ADHS will promptly order vaccine doses” as they become available.
In the second week, vaccines will be distributed to all 15 counties and four tribes, according to the release.
Get tested: Pima County has free COVID testing
Pima County offers 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, Jeff Gardner, Nicole Ludden and Mike Truelsen