Southern AZ Weekly COVID-19 Update

What news occurred this week

THE LOCAL NUMBERS. The number of Arizona's confirmed novel coronavirus cases topped 148,000 as of Tuesday, July 21, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. That's up from roughly 128,000 on the previous Tuesday, July 14. Pima County had seen 13,848 of the state's 148,863 confirmed cases. A total of 2,918 Arizonans had died after contracting COVID-19, according to the July 21 report. Arizona hospitals remain under pressure although the numbers of patients has declined from a peak earlier this month. ADHS reported that as of July 20, 3,041 COVID patients were hospitalized in the state, down from a peak of 3,517 on July 13 and the lowest number hospitalized since July 2, when 3,013 were hospitalized. A total of 1,203 people visited ERs on July 20 with COVID symptoms. The number of ER visits hadn't hadn't dipped that low since June 29, when 1,077 people with COVID symptoms visited ERs. That number peaked at 2,008 on July 7. A total of 865 COVID-19 patients were in ICU beds on July 20. That's the lowest it's been since July 8, when 861 COVID-19 patients were in ICU. The number in ICUs peaked at 970 on July 13.

no end in sight. Gov. Doug Ducey said last week that mask-wearing and steps to reduce the interaction of people in large groups had resulted in some positive signs regarding the spread of the virus, with the state reporting fewer cases on a week-by-week basis. He thanked local authorities for requiring the wearing of masks but did not issue a statewide mask mandate. Ducey warned the state still had a long road ahead in the fight against the deadly virus. "I want people to get their heads around this," Ducey said. "There's no end in sight today." Cases in Pima County may have also peaked on a week-to-week basis in the week ending June 27 with 2,3000 new cases over those seven days. Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry noted that the two subsequent weeks could still be adjusted upwards, but during the week ending July 4, 2,092 cases were reported. However, Huckelberry noted that the week ending July 4, the county saw a peak of 37 deaths, up from 18 the previous week. Arizona Senate Democrats released a joint statement last week urging Ducey to enact a statewide mask mandate, implement more contact tracing and provide more PPE for hospitals and schools. "We are disappointed again that the Governor refuses to take stronger actions to curb the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus," the lawmakers wrote. "More aggressive action is needed now to safely open schools in the future no matter what date is picked."

HOLD OFF ON BUYING THOSE BACK-TO-SCHOOL ITEMS. Gov. Ducey said last week he would soon be making more announcements about the school year. While Arizona schools are tentatively scheduled to open on Aug. 17 (with some districts starting online programs sooner), Ducey called that "a date that's out there" without firmly committing to it. Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, recently warned 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. Humble, who headed up the Arizona Department of Health Services in the administration of former Gov. Jan Brewer, said there are two main factors to consider when opening schools in the fall: mitigation measures and the level of community spread within a school district. "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," Humble said. Local school districts are planning a mix of "distance learning" online instruction and in-school instruction when school starts next month. Tucson Unified School District said last week it will launch online classes for all students starting Aug. 10 but in order to avoid losing state funding, schools will open on Aug. 17 for any student who wants to attend class in person. However, students will be in "learning spaces" overseen by monitors where they will do the same distance learning program as students who remain home. All TUSD families will receive laptops. Other local school districts have announced a mix of online and in-person options but say they will be ready to go online-only if Ducey delays the start of the school year once again.

RENTER RELIEF. Gov. Ducey announced a new executive order extending the residential eviction moratorium until Oct. 31. The previous residential eviction moratorium was set to expire on Saturday, July 25. Ducey announced $650,000 would go to various community action agencies to improve staffing and help administer rental assistance programs for Arizonans statewide. Approximately $1.2 million in assistance has been distributed to Arizona renters since late March, according to the Governor's Office. Additionally, Ducey announced $5 million to establish the Foreclosure Prevention Program to help residential landlords dependent on rental income to survive. "This will provide targeted relief to homeowners who rely on income from tenants to help them avoid foreclosure," said Ducey, who added that state and local governments have directed more than $80 million on programs to assist renters and prevent homelessness. ■

—By Jim Nintzel with additional reporting from Kathleen B. Kunz, Austin Counts, Jeff Gardner and Tara Foulkrod.