Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Tuesday, Feb. 9: AZ death toll rises by 231; Hospitalizations continue decline, virus still widespread; Variant strain remains a concern; Vaccines available in Marana/Oro Valley area

With 4,381 new cases reported today, the total number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases topped 787,000 as of Tuesday, Feb. 9, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County, which reported 685 new cases today, has seen 105,606 of the state’s 787,268 confirmed cases.

With 231 new deaths reported today, a total number of 14,286 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 1,958 deaths in Pima County, according to the Feb. 9 report.

The number of hospitalized COVID cases statewide has declined in recent weeks, with 2,744 coronavirus patients in the hospital as of Feb. 8. That number peaked at 5,082 on Jan. 11. The summer peak was 3,517, which was set on July 13, 2020. The subsequent lowest number of hospitalized COVID patients was 468, set on Sept. 27, 2020.

A total of 1,307 people visited emergency rooms on Feb. 8 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, 2020; it hit a subsequent low of 653 on Sept. 28, 2020.

A total of 797 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Feb. 7, 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, 2020. The subsequent low was 114 on Sept. 22, 2020.

How to get a vaccine

Currently, Pima County is providing vaccination shots to people 70 and older as well as educators, first responders and healthcare workers. Those who currently qualify in Pima County’s 1B priority group of eligible vaccine recipients can register for a vaccine at or by calling 520-222-0119.

Cases decline but virus remains widespread

While Pima County lacks the vaccine supply to vaccinate enough of the population to reach herd immunity, COVID-19 cases are decreasing across the state. Health experts warn, however, that continued mitigation is needed to maintain the downward trend.

According to the latest report by Dr. Joe Gerald, a University of Arizona professor who creates weekly coronavirus epidemiology reports based on Arizona Department of Health Services data, the week ending Jan. 31 saw a 31% decrease in total COVID-19 cases from the week prior.

In Pima County, coronavirus cases saw a 27% decrease the week ending Jan. 17 from the week before, Gerald reports.

Data from the Pima County Health Department reflects a similar trend. The first week of January saw Pima County’s highest weekly number of COVID-19 cases at 8,860, while the following week dropped to 7,052 and the third week to 5,260. Week four reported 2,916 cases, but data from the last 4-7 days are still trickling in.

“I'm cautiously optimistic. So we have 130,000 plus vaccinated. We have over 103,000 cases, which confers some immunity, at least for that particular 90 days. We do seem to be seeing a decrease in our cases day by day,” said Dr. Theresa Cullen, Pima County’s health department director. “Overall, if we look at what we call the epi curve, we do see that epi curve seems to have hit its peak and is coming down. That is also consistent with what we're seeing with our hospitalizations. We have more ICU bed availability than we have had for the past eight weeks.”

However, Cullen said the county’s test positivity of 12.5% is still high, and while COVID-19 testing has decreased, it hasn’t corresponded with a decreased positivity rate.

“That means that we still have a lot of COVID transmission occurring in the county,” Cullen said.

While the week ending Jan. 17 remains Arizona’s deadliest at 913 reported COVID-19 deaths, Gerald said deaths will remain high for the next four to eight weeks.

The county health department reports 134 COVID-19 deaths for January’s first week, 125 for the second, 85 for the third and six deaths for the last week of the month. More details here.

After state cuts in vaccine doses, county officials warn that it’s going to take longer for Pima residents to get shots

While Pima County widens vaccine eligibility, it’s receiving a reduced vaccine supply that makes it difficult to keep up with demand.

Last week, the Pima County Health Department announced those over 70 are now eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines by signing up for appointments beginning Monday.

While only the 75+ age group, protective service workers and educators were previously eligible, the health department is expanding its 1B priority group of vaccine recipients to include individuals over 70 after vaccinating more than 130,000 residents over the past six weeks, according to county health department Director Dr. Theresa Cullen.

However, this week’s vaccine allocation has been truncated. Last week, the state allocated Pima County 29,000 doses. This week, the county will only receive 17,800—a 39% decrease in an already strained vaccine supply.

“Weekly allocations to local jurisdictions are based on population size, which phase a county is currently vaccinating, and the number of doses available for allocation. While Pima County’s allocation this week is lower than in the recent past, in total to date, Pima County has received approximately 14% of the state's overall allocation,” Holly Poynter, the Arizona Department of Health Services’ public information officer, explained in an email. “We have asked the federal government for an increased vaccine allocation, but this has not yet occurred. We are hopeful that the allocation will grow in the coming weeks.”

As of Saturday, Pima County administered 147,229 vaccines out of a total state allocation of 165,950 doses. According to ADHS data, the county has given 26,104 sets of the two doses needed for one to be considered fully immunized.

While doses are taken from the state’s total vaccine allocation from the federal government to send to assisted living facilities, Walgreens, CVS and other store-based pharmacies, Cullen says the health department believes some doses are “taken off the top for other things that we may or may not have insight into.”

As the county expands vaccine eligibility to a wider swath of the population, it still has to ensure second doses are available for individuals who already received their first dose.

“We have worked really closely with our PODs, and we are planning for that inevitable time when we need to expand so people can get their second shot,” Cullen said. “But if the immunization numbers are decreased, we're in a situation where we're going to decide whether to do the first or the second shot. The CDC has given institutions the latitude to go to six weeks for a second shot, but not beyond that right now.”

The health director said she has confidence that all those who wish to receive vaccines in Pima County will get a shot when it’s their time to do so. However, the wait times may be elongated if the county continues to receive a limited vaccine supply. More details here.

UA continues vax program for educators, hoping to allow larger classes soon

The University of Arizona has delivered 9,866 COVID-19 vaccines at a rate of 800 shots per day, according to President Dr. Robert C. Robbins.

The UA point of distribution, or POD, is targeted toward educators and childcare providers and has two vaccination sites: a drive-through location at the University of Arizona Mall and a walk-through clinic at the Ina E. Gittings building.

While operating as a vaccine distribution center, UA is basing its learning structures for students on the prevalence of coronavirus in the community.

Robbins lauded the state for its improvement in COVID-19 transmission. While Arizona held the highest rate of transmission in the country throughout most of January, it now ranks at No. 8 yesterday.

If conditions continue to improve, the university will enter stage two of its reentry plan on Feb. 22 with up to 50 students attending classes in person. For now, it remains in stage one with in-person instruction for essential courses only.

From Jan. 28 to Feb. 6, UA administered 18,767 COVID-19 tests and found 127 positive cases for a positivity rating of 0.7%, down from last week’s percent positivity of 1.3%.

The university began the semester requiring on-campus dorm residents to take two COVID-19 tests a week with at least 48 hours between tests. Due to improving COVID-19 data, dorm residents or students who attend classes in-person will only have to take one test a week, Robbins announced.

The university’s CART team, a collaboration with the UA and Tucson police departments that looks for noncompliance to COVID-19 precautions, found 12 total incidents the week of Feb. 1. They responded to six events with under 20 attendees, one event with 20-49 people and five events with an unknown number of participants.

“Remember, we've tried to shoot for under 5%, and we've been significantly under 5% for a long time now. This last number is very, very encouraging,” Robbins said. “These are good signs, however, remain vigilant, continue to cover your face, wash your hands and keep distance from as many people as possible.”

“The people that are demonstrated in these numbers here are people that are taking risks, not only to themselves, but they're becoming potential vectors of disease. 40 or 50% of people carry this virus and don't know it,” said Dr. Richard Carmona, UA’s reentry task force director and former U.S. surgeon general. “You may feel well, but you may be spreading it to others. So it's extraordinarily important that you keep that social distance, stay away from big groups, until such time that we can do that safely again.”

UA Immunobiologist discusses coronavirus variants

UA Immunobiologist Deepta Bhattacharya joined the university’s press conference yesterday to discuss the efficacy of the current COVID-19 vaccines against growing mutations of COVID-19 throughout the country.

Coronavirus variants from the UK, South Africa and Brazil have been discovered in the U.S. In Arizona, at least three test samples have come back positive for the presence of the UK variant, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Bhattacharya also discussed a new variant identified in California.

The immunobiologist said the UK variant, or the B.1.1.7 virus, is of the greatest concern. While all the mutated viruses have a probable chance of increased transmissibility, the UK virus has a 20-50% greater likelihood of transmitting.

Bhattacharya said the UK virus could become the dominant variant in the coming months.

“The key is to actually make sure that the total number of cases is low enough so that even if it does become the dominant variant, it doesn't cause the levels of problems that it has in the United Kingdom and in Israel,” Bhattacharya said.

In early studies, the vaccines are showing promising protection against the UK variant, Bhattacharya said.

The variants from South Africa and Brazil, however, only show partial effectiveness against the vaccines, while the immunity vaccines provide against the California variant is still unknown.

The immunobiologist said the South African variant is showing a nearly six-fold loss against the protective antibodies the vaccines provide.

“This is just a little bit of evidence that we're going to need some things besides just the vaccines to keep the virus under control,” Bhattacharya said. More details here.

Vaccine available now in Marana and Oro Valley area

MHC Healthcare is currently scheduling COVID-19 vaccine appointments for those older than 75 in the Marana and Oro Valley areas.

On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, appointments will take place at MHC Healthcare Marana Main Health Center at 13395 N. Marana Main St.

Vaccinations will take place every Thursday at the James D. Kriegh Park at 23 W Calle Concordia in Oro Valley.

Appointments will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and residents of Oro Valley, Marana, Dove Mountain, Catalina, Avra Valley, Picture Rocks and Summer Haven can register at

Vaccinations at both locations will be administered in a drive-thru setting using the Moderna vaccine.

As of last Monday, MHC had received 2,300 vaccines from the Pima County Health Department and administered 1,714.

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