Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Friday, March 12: UK Variant Now in Pima County; Pima County Opens Vax Appointments to 55+, Frontline Workers; Biden Signs $1.9 trillion COVID Relief Package: Here’s How To Set Up Vax Appointments, COVID Tests

With 1,397 new cases reported today, the total number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases closed in on 832,000 as of Friday, March 12, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County, which reported 110 new cases today, has seen 111,041 of the state’s 831,832 confirmed cases.

With 55 new deaths reported today, a total of 16,519 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 2,293 deaths in Pima County, according to the March 12 report.

A total of 831 coronavirus patients were in the hospital as of March 11 That’s roughly 16% of the number hospitalized at the peak of the winter surge, which reached 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.

The number of people visiting emergency rooms with COVID-like symptoms has bumped up this week, with 1,1097 people visiting ERs on March 11 with COVID symptoms. Still, that number is less than half of 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 236 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on March 11, which is roughly 20% of the record 1,183 ICU patients 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.

UK variant circulating in Pima County

Four cases of the COVID-19 UK variant have been found in Pima County, said Pima County Health Department Director Dr. Theresa Cullen during a briefing this afternoon.

Pima County Health Department has been tracking genomic sequencing of positive COVID-19 PCR tests (aka the nasal swab test). They send a random sample of those positive PCR tests to the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in Flagstaff for sequencing, Cullen said.

This process takes up about three to four weeks from the collection and procession of the sample to getting a positive result and then sending it to a lab like TGen, where the genetic sequencing takes place. In other words, the variant has been in Pima County for at least three to four weeks since the sample was collected, Cullen said.

According to the CDC, this variant, first detected in the U.S. in late December 2020, spreads more easily and quickly than other variants. Some experts in the U.K. reported the variant may be associated with an increased risk in death, but this finding has not been confirmed.

“It's not to make the community frightened, but it is to remind the community that COVID-19 is a deadly disease,” said Cullen. “It has significant morbidity and mortality and the way we protect ourselves right now is to do the three W's, to abide by the recommendations that we've given.”

When asked if the uptick in hospitalizations for COVID-19, may be related to the variant, Cullen could not be sure of a causal relationship, but said they will monitor both the spread of the variant and the increase in hospitalizations.

Cullen said Pima County has administered a little over 330,000 vaccines. Roughly 209,000 people have received the first dose and around 134,000 are fully vaccinated.

Cullen said daily vaccinations vary from about 5,000 to 9,000, with the Tucson Convention Center currently averaging around 1,400 to 1,500 and sometimes delivering above 2,000 doses, while the UA POD’s goal is around 3,500 to 4,000 vaccines a day.

Pima County Expands Eligibility for 55+ and Frontline Essential Workers

Pima County will expand eligibility to those 55 and older and as well as frontline essential workers, defined by Cullen as “someone who needs to work with the public and are routinely less than six feet for more than 15 minutes in those situations.”

On Monday, the state informed Pima County that they had met the goal of vaccinating more than 55% of the 65+ population, having vaccinated 59.4% of the 65 and older residents, said Cullen.

Based on data from the state, Cullen believes Pima County has already vaccinated around 20% of those 55 and older, because they fell into other categories like health care workers, law enforcement, and teachers.

Pima County is now in line with the state vaccination POD at the UA. Cullen said she hoped the consistent model would help reduce confusion about eligibility.

She said there are about 136,000 residents in Pima County who are aged 55 to 64, and frontline essential workers may be somewhere between 40,000 to 60,000 people.

“We believe that that group is, independent of age, at risk to acquire the disease,” said Cullen. “Our goal is really prevention of COVID, the acquisition of COVID and the transmission of COVID.”

Those eligible can apply for vaccine appointments starting 9 a.m. Friday, March 12.

Biden signs $1.9 trillion COVID relief package

President Joe Biden yesterday signed a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package.

The legislation passed the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives over the last week on a mostly party-line vote, with no Republicans supporting the package and just one Democrat, Maine Rep. Jared Golden, voting against it.

Southern Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ03) said many Americans were still struggling a year into the pandemic.

“Our friends and loved ones have died, millions remain unemployed, our children are missing critical in-person learning opportunities, and countless small businesses have shuttered,” Grijalva said. “The American Rescue Plan recognizes these traumas and direct funds to put money in the pockets of those most impacted, safely return our children to in-person learning, and get shots in the arms of everyone in the country so that we can end the pandemic once and for all. A crisis of this magnitude warrants an equal response, and this legislation gets our families, workers, and small businesses the relief they deserve.”

For details on the legislation, click here.

How to get a vaccine

To find out if you are eligible for a vaccine, visit the Arizona Department of Health website.

While supplies remain limited, Pima County is providing vaccination appointments to people 55 and older as well as frontline workers, educators, first responders and healthcare workers. Those who qualify in Pima County’s priority group of eligible vaccine recipients can register for a vaccine at or by calling 520-222-0119.

A state-run vaccination site at the University of Arizona was not accepting first-dose appointments as of Friday, March 12. As the state-run POD, or point of distribution, registrations at the UA vaccination site will go through ADHS’s website. When appointments become available, you can make them at pod, and those who need assistance can call 1-844-542-8201. More details here.

Some local pharmacies are now receiving vaccine doses. To find one near you, visit the ADHS website.

Get tested: Pima County has free COVID testing

Pima County is continuing to offer a number of testing centers around town.

You’ll have a nasal swab test at the Kino Event Center (2805 E. Ajo Way)a and the Udall Center (7200 E. Tanque Verde Road).

The center at the northside Ellie Towne Flowing Wells Community Center, 1660 W. Ruthrauff Road, involves a saliva test designed by ASU.

Schedule an appointment at these or other drive-thru or pop-up sites at

The University of Arizona’s antibody testing can determine if you have had COVID and now have antibodies. To sign up for testing, visit

—with additional reporting from Austin Counts, Christina Duran, Jeff Gardner and Mike Truelsen