Southern Arizona COVID-19 News Weekly Roundup

The stories we covered this week

THE LOCAL NUMBERS: The number of confirmed novel coronavirus cases in Arizona continued to skyrocket, topping 128,000 as of Tuesday, July 14, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Pima County had seen 12,114 of the state's 128,097 confirmed cases. A total of 2,337 Arizonans had died after contracting COVID-19, including 338 in Pima County, according to the July 14 report. Arizona hospitals continued to see a rise in the number of people hospitalized with COVID symptoms, as well as more people visiting emergency rooms. ADHS reported that as of July 12, a record number of 3,517 Arizonans were hospitalized with COVID symptoms, a record 970 people were in ICU units and a record 674 people were on ventilators. The report shows 1,553 people arrived at emergency rooms with COVID-like symptoms on July 12.

THE NATIONAL NUMBERS: Nationwide, nearly 3.4 million people had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, which had killed more than 136,000 people in the United States as of Tuesday, July 14, according to tracking by Johns Hopkins University.

HALF MEASURES: In response to the rising cases, Gov. Doug Ducey said last week that restaurants would be limited to 50 percent capacity, though he took no other steps to reduce the spread of the virus other than announcing that the state would be stepping up its testing program in the weeks to come. In late June, Ducey ordered the closure of movie theaters, gyms, tubing operations and some bars. Ducey said the state was reaching a plateau since local officials had begun requiring masks in some communities but stopped short of mandating the wearing of masks himself. Ducey said it would be better if Arizonans decided to do that without his mandate.Democrats in the Arizona Senate released a joint statement saying they were "profoundly disappointed" in Ducey's failure to take further action. "The newest actions to curb COVID-19 in Arizona are reactionary, piecemeal half measures that are inadequate to substantially slow the spread of the virus," the lawmakers wrote. "If we truly care about the health and economy of the state, then we need another statewide stay at home order. Only limiting indoor dining to less than 50 percent is woefully inadequate to significantly curb the spread of COVID-19 in Arizona."

BUT ON THE POSITIVE SIDE, HE CAN'T SEEK ANOTHER TERM: Ducey's handling of the virus has caused a steep drop in his job approval numbers, according to a poll released this week by OH Predictive Insights. Pollster Mike Noble noted that his latest survey of 600 likely 2020 voters, conducted July 6-7, showed that voters had sharply turned on Ducey's handling of the coronavirus, with his approval dropping to 35 percent with 63 percent disapproval. In a similar June poll, 59 percent of Arizonans approved of Ducey's handling of the coronavirus and only 37 disapproved. "As goes the coronavirus so goes Doug Ducey's fortunes among Arizona voters," said OHPI Chief of Research Mike Noble in a prepared statement. "When the outbreak was being contained, Ducey was popular. Now that cases are on the rise, his disapproval rating is too." Those polling numbers echod a survey released last week by the COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public's Policy Preferences Across States, which showed that Ducey had gone from 57 percent approval in early May to 32 percent in late June.

AS LONG AS YOU STAY SIX FEET AWAY FROM YOUR KIDS AND DON'T LET THEM TOUCH ANYTHING IN THE HOUSE, YOU'LL BE FINE: Despite pressure from the Trump administration to open schools to all students on their regular schedule, some local school districts have announced that they will only offer "distance learning" or online instruction when school starts next month. Unlike in spring, when schools moved online following spring break, districts are planning stricter instructional time designed to mirror traditional in-person classes. Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, said last week that while states that have taken more aggressive steps earlier to slow the spread of the virus will be able to reopen schools, he can't see the same thing happening in Arizona. "School districts have some really creative folks and I think they could put some effective mitigation measures in place that would make it safe to open schools if we didn't have so much community spread," Humble said. "Because we have the level of community spread that we have, I just don't see that mitigation measures, which help but don't eliminate transmission, are going to be adequate to make it a safe environment for teachers and schools and families."

GET TESTED: Pima County has launched a new testing site at Kino Event Center. After the registration portal opened, this week's slots filled up in 10 minutes, according to a memo from Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. In other testing news, Pima County announced last week that officials have contracted Maximus Health & Services, Inc. to boost contact tracing efforts in the region. Maximus is an outsourcing company that provides business support to government health agencies such as the Pima County Health Department. They will hire about 150 local residents to perform "extensive" contact tracing as directed by the health department, in order to "alert, educate and isolate" individuals who have come in close contact with a person who is COVID-19 positive. ■

—Reporting from Jim Nintzel, Kathleen B. Kunz, Austin Counts, Jeff Gardner and Tara Foulkrod.

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