Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Monday, Jan. 25: Hospitals See Slight Decrease in Patients but Pressure Remains High; Marana Returning to Hybrid Instruction Today; Amphi Delays Classroom Return to Feb. 15

With nearly 20,000 new cases reported since Friday, the total number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases closed in on 728,000 as of Monday, Jan 25, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County, which reported 736 new cases today, has seen 97,474 of the state’s 727,895 confirmed cases.

A total of 12,239 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 1,611 deaths in Pima County, according to the Jan. 25 report.

The number of hospitalized COVID cases statewide has declined in recent weeks after peaking at 5,082 on Jan. 11 but remains above the peak levels of the summer’s first wave. ADHS reported that as of Jan. 24, 4,229 COVID patients were hospitalized in the state. 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 about one-tenth of the current count.

A total of 1,834 people visited emergency rooms on Jan. 24 with COVID symptoms, down from the record high of 2,341 set on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. That number had peaked during the summer wave at 2,008 on July 7; it hit a subsequent low of 653 on Sept. 28.

A total of 1,027 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Jan. 24, down from a peak of 1,183 set 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.

COVID hospitalization on slight decline but pressure remains high

Banner’s top clinical leader began a press conference Friday with a message Arizonans haven’t heard in a long time.

“Positive COVID-19 cases are on the decline nationally and locally here in Arizona,” said Dr. Marjorie Bessel, the chief clinical officer of the state’s largest hospital system. “The positivity rate in Arizona, though still very high, has declined slightly from its peak the last week of December and COVID hospitalizations have been going down since Jan. 11.”

However, she said it's not time to let up on coronavirus mitigation efforts.

Arizona holds the country’s highest transmission rate at 96 cases per 100,000 population, according to CDC data. She also said COVID-19 patients account for 62% of the state’s hospitalizations.

“While we are pleased to see these numbers trending down, we are still experiencing uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 in Arizona,” she said. “The state continues to lead the U.S. with the highest rate of COVID-19 infection in the country.”

On Friday, Arizona passed the grim milestone of 12,000 COVID-19 deaths.

“Knowing that we have lost 12,000 Arizonans to COVID-19 weighs on our hearts and minds each and every day,” Bessel said. “My thoughts are with all those who have lost loved ones to COVID. We are going to battle this virus every day in our hospitals and we are committed to saving as many lives as we can.”

According to Bessel, bouncing back from the ongoing surge in cases will take much longer than it did during the summer surge, and she estimates the state won’t reach pre-surge hospitalization levels for another 10 or 11 weeks.

State hospitalizations are 700% higher than they were on Nov. 1, while the number of patients on ventilators has increased by 1,000%, Bessel said.

More details here.

Marana resumes hybrid instruction today; Amphi delays return until Feb. 15

The Marana Unified School District is set to return to hybrid learning today.

The move comes despite recommendations from the Arizona Department of Health Services, which is recommending all counties commit to virtual learning for students with online classes and some onsite support services.

ADHS made its recommendation based on three key benchmarks: cases per 100,000 individuals, percent positivity and hospital visits for COVID-like illness. All benchmarks are currently in a state of substantial transmission throughout the state.

In Pima County, ADHS data shows 9,065 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 of the population and a 12.3% positivity rate of the virus as of Jan. 22. The most recent data available on the state health department’s school benchmarks website shows hospital visits for COVID-like illnesses at 14.8% as of Jan. 3.

Last Friday, Jan. 21, the Amphitheater school district pushed their preliminary return date to hybrid learning from Feb. 1 to Feb. 15 after considering guidance from the state health department that all counties in the state should remain in virtual learning models.

With a continued strain on vaccine availability for those eligible in Pima County’s current priority 1B phase, including educators, Superintendent Todd Jaeger said the county originally allotted 190 vaccine appointments for Amphitheater staff last week, but they’ve only scheduled around 70.

“At this point, given the current high spread of COVID-19 and the limitations of the vaccine program, I can see no path to safely opening on Feb. 1 as planned,” Jaeger wrote in a letter to district families. “While I know that other schools and districts have made different decisions, I have said from the outset of this pandemic that I would look to our state and local health officials and data to inform my decisions.”

Catalina Foothills has remained open for in-person learning since Oct. 26.

The Flowing Wells School District has pushed its return date to hybrid learning from Jan. 19 to Feb. 1.

The Emily Meschter Early Learning Center, the district’s preschool, remains open for in-person learning with a remote option. Most students attend four half days a week, Baker said.

While Sunnyside originally planned to return to hybrid learning on Jan. 19, it will remain in remote learning until at least Jan. 31.

After the county health department recommended schools remain in virtual learning models for up to two weeks, the district’s governing board decided to delay in-person instruction until the health department announces it’s safe to return.

Tucson Unified School District, Tucson’s largest school district, remains in a remote-only model and its governing board has yet to vote on a return date for hybrid instruction.

More details here.

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

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

—with additional reporting from Austin Counts, Jeff Gardner, Nicole Ludden and Mike Truelsen