With more than 8,500 new cases reported today, the number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases topped 636,000 as of Tuesday, Jan 12, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Pima County, which reported 1,040 new cases today, has seen 84,426 of the state’s 636,100 confirmed cases.
A total of 10,482 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 1,311 deaths in Pima County, according to the Jan. 12 report.
The number of hospitalized COVID cases statewide continues to soar as the virus has begun to spread more rapidly, putting stress on Arizona’s hospitals and surpassing July peaks. ADHS reported that as of Jan. 11, 5,082 COVID patients were hospitalized in the state, breaking the 5,000 threshold for the first time. The summer peak of 3,517 hospitalized COVID patients was set on July 13; that number hit a subsequent low of 468 on Sept. 27, or less than a tenth of the current count.
A total of 1,872 people visited emergency rooms on Jan. 11 with COVID symptoms, down from the record high of 2,341 set on Tuesday, Dec. 29. That number had previously peaked at 2,008 on July 7; it hit a subsequent low of 653 on Sept. 28.
A record number of 1,183 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Jan. 11. The summer’s record number of patients in ICU beds was 970, set on July 13. The subsequent low was 114 on Sept. 22.
A website that tracks COVID infections across the globe reports that Arizona continues to have a COVID transmission rate far above the United States as a whole.
The website 91-divoc.com, which uses data from Johns Hopkins University, reports that Arizona is seeing a record 122 infections per 100,000 people on a seven-day average, compared to 74.2 infections per 100,000 for the United States as a whole.
Pressure on Pima County hospitals continues to rise. As of Monday, Jan. 11, a record number of 243 COVID patients were in ICU beds, accounting for 68% of ICU beds. Only 20 ICU beds were available in the county, according to the Pima County Health Department.
The death toll among COVID continued to rise with 46 deaths over the weekend, bringing the total since Jan. 1 to 172.
UA professor: Virus “is mowing through Arizona like a sharpened scythe”
The latest COVID-19 report from a University of Arizona professor shows an increase in already alarming coronavirus numbers as the state continues to set records for weekly case counts. Those numbers are likely even higher in reality because of a backlog in reporting.
Dr. Joe Gerald, who creates weekly coronavirus epidemiology reports based on Arizona Department of Health Services data, had little good news to share in this week’s report.
“The [coronavirus] is mowing through Arizona like a sharpened scythe,” Gerald wrote in the report. “Fatalities are stacking up like cordwood in advance of a long winter. Barring intervention, daily cases and fatalities will double or perhaps quadruple before the outbreak collapses under the weight of natural, not vaccine-induced, immunity later this spring.”
The week ending Jan. 3 saw 56,108 new COVID-19 cases statewide, a 35% increase from the week prior.
Coronavirus testing positivity reached 35% that week, setting a new record for the state.
Arizona has also surpassed its deadliest week from the summer surge in cases, and the week ending Dec. 20 now holds the highest number of COVID-19 deaths at 709. Gerald predicts weekly death counts will exceed 700 in the coming weeks.
Gerald said testing capacity and uptake remains lower than levels observed on Dec. 20, indicating the reported numbers are likely higher in reality.
“The test positivity rate for traditional . . . PCR testing set another record this week at 35% positivity,” he wrote. “This indicates a substantial mismatch between testing capacity and demand and supports the notion that viral transmission is growing faster than case counts alone would suggest, that our viral control measures are wholly inadequate, and our testing capacity compared to other regions is poor.”
Pima County reported 7,470 positive COVID-19 tests the week ending Jan. 3, a 25% increase from the previous week, Gerald reported.
Furthermore, the CDC has indicated Arizona has a faster transmission rate than any other state.
As of Jan. 3, new COVID-19 cases in Arizona were appearing at a rate of 780 cases per 100,000 of the population, a rate that’s increasing by nearly 220 cases per 100,000 a week.
Ducey: Get kids back in school
In his State of the State address yesterday, Gov. Doug Ducey said he would not take further steps such as stay-at-home orders to reduce the spread of COVID, nor would he grant powers to local mayors to reduce the spread, saying he was “not going to hand over the keys to a small group of mayors who have expressed every intention of locking down their cities.”
“The rest of life doesn’t stop in a pandemic, least of all our basic responsibilities,” said Ducey, who has seen his approval ratings tumble since the outset of the pandemic. “People still have bills to pay, children in need of schooling, businesses to run and employees who depend on them. There are lots of men and women who don’t have the option of remote work and don’t receive uninterrupted direct deposits. To make a living, they have to show up somewhere. And if the doors are closed, then at a certain point they are never going to open again.”
Despite his opposition to taking action to slow the spread of COVID, Ducey called on schools to fully reopen even though in many cases, that means packing large groups of students and teachers into poorly ventilated spaces.
“In strange, difficult circumstances, parents and teachers have done their resourceful best,” Ducey said. “But it’s time to get our students back where they belong. With every public-health professional, from Dr. Fauci and the CDC on down, saying that the safest place for kids to be is in school, we will not be funding empty seats or allowing schools to remain in a perpetual state of closure. Children still need to learn, even in a pandemic.”
Ducey’s call to reopen schools did not go over well with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, who said that the speech “ignored the reality of the worsening spread of COVID-19 and its severe impact on our schools, students and teachers.”
Hoffman added: “In the face of enormous hardship and loss, teachers and schools have gone above and beyond to ensure students’ learning continues amid school facility closures. To say otherwise—without a commitment to fund distance learning—contributes to the toxic environment where teachers, board members and superintendents are harassed for making data-driven decisions.”
Hoffman said that vaccines “are a light at the end of the tunnel” but not enough supplies of vaccine are now available for teachers.
“The key to re-opening our schools is getting control of COVID-19,” Hoffman said.
UA resuming classes this week
The University of Arizona will return to classes on Wednesday in stage 1 of its reentry plan where students can attend in-person instruction for essential courses, UA President Dr. Robert Robbins shared in a news conference Monday.
The university implemented a COVID-19 “testing blitz” from Jan. 6-12 where all dorm residents, students attending in-person classes and those who plan to spend time on the main campus must receive a coronavirus test.
So far, 108 individuals have tested positive out of 6,184 tests during the blitz. From Jan. 4-10, UA found 179 positive coronavirus cases after administering 8,060 tests for a positivity rate of 2.2%.
Out of the 1,336 students who have moved into their campus residences, nine have moved into isolation dorms and seven are self-quarantining off-campus, Robbins said. Most dorm residents will move in within “the next several days,” he said.
All students coming from outside Pima County for the spring semester are expected to self-quarantine off-campus for seven days.
Throughout the semester, students living in dorms or attending in-person classes will be required to take a COVID-19 test every week. Those who test positive will be provided an isolation dorm to self-quarantine.
UA Reentry Task Force Director Richard Carmona discussed alarming state and countywide data that shows the widespread transmission of the virus.
In Arizona, COVID-19 cases have increased by 52% and deaths 137% during the past 14 days.
Carmona called coronavirus cases in Pima County “off the chart” as 1,189 cases were reported Monday. However, the actual number may be higher due to a backlog of cases yet to be reported.
“The numbers are still very, very challenging, and we are extremely concerned about a lag in data and the fact that we have not yet fully appreciated the burden that we’re going to accept from all the travel over Christmas and New Year's,” Carmona said.
Robbins estimated by Jan. 22, UA will serve as a point of distribution for COVID-19 vaccines when phase 1B of vaccination rollout begins as early as this week.
Pima County Attorney’s Office closed for sanitizing after staff outbreak
Pima County Attorney Laura Conover announced Sunday night that she was temporarily closing her Downtown offices after a COVID outbreak among her staff.
The Legal Services Building, 32 N. Stone Ave., is expected to reopen Wednesday following cleaning and sanitizing while employees telecommute.
Conover has been feeling mild COVID symptoms and is awaiting test results, according to a news release.
Conover said the closure was necessary "to keep operations going and to make sure we don't hit that brick wall of not having enough healthy staff.”
Conover thanked employees who had alerted HR to their positive tests.
"You are helping us keep your colleagues safe," Conover said.
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