Weekly COVID-19 Roundup

Some of the stories we covered this week

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Arizona topped 6,900 as of Tuesday, April 28, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Pima County had 1,188 of the state's 6,948 confirmed cases. The coronavirus had killed 293 people statewide, including 78 in Pima County, according to the report. In Maricopa County, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases had risen to 3,578.

Confirmed cases in the United States were closing in on one million, with nearly 54,000 dead after contracting the virus as of Monday, April 27, according to preliminary numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. President Donald Trump suggested at a press conference that doctors should find a way to "bring light inside the body" to kill the virus. "And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute, one minute, and is there a way we can do something like that?" Trump added. "Like injection inside or almost a cleaning because, you see, it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number in the lungs, so it'd be interesting to check that. You're going to have to use medical doctors, but it sounds interesting to me." After Trump's comments, disinfectant companies such as Lysol urged people to avoid using their products internally, while Trump later said he was being sarcastic but his humor was lost on the mainstream media.

• Gov. Doug Ducey's stay-at-home order, which drew a recent two-day demonstrations from conservative protesters at the state Capitol, expires on Thursday, April 30. The order has closed a wide number of "non-essential" businesses, including bars, barbershops, salons, theaters, gyms, swap meets and many retail stories. Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak last week said that administration officials were still tracking data to determine the best course of action regarding whether the stay-at-home order would be extended into May. "Every decision we make will continue to be informed by public health and a commitment to reenergizing our economy when it is responsible and safe to do so," Ptak said. Three options are under consideration, according to Ptak: Allowing the order to expire, extending it as is or extending it with modifications based on the state's conditions.

• Ducey announced that as of May 1, under certain circumstances, hospitals could return to performing elective surgeries, which had been put on hold over concern of a wave of COVID-19 cases overwhelming health care facilities. The ban on those elective surgeries had caused major financial losses for hospitals as they emptied rooms to prepare for a potential surge in COVID-19 cases that hasn't yet materialized.

More than half of the people in Pima County who died after contracting COVID-19 were either residents of long-term care nursing homes or assisted living facilities, according to a press release from Pima County this weekend. Of Pima County's 1,047 cases as of April 23, 280 of them (or 27 percent) were in long-term care facilities, including 180 residents and 100 staffers. Of those, 78 residents and nine staffers had to be hospitalized. A total of 38 deaths of residents of such facilities had been reported as of last Thursday. "Once the virus gets in, it can be extremely difficult to keep it from spreading," said Dr. Bob England, director of Pima County Health Department. "By nature of the work they do, staff members and residents come into close contact with one another multiple times per day, increasing the risks for both."

• Congress last week passed a new $493 billion relief package that included an additional $310 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program as well as $75 billion for hospitals facing the financial strain of the outbreak and $25 billion for additional testing capacity. The first $349 billion in forgivable loans in the PPP, which was part of a larger $2.2 trillion COVID-19 relief package passed by Congress in response to the outbreak, ran out of money less than two weeks after it was launched. The new relief program does not include additional aid to state and local governments struggling with a drop in tax revenues. While Democrats pushed for that funding to be included, it was opposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other GOP leaders. McConnell said he would prefer states go bankrupt rather than provide them with more federal funding.

• Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said last week that he was assembling a task force that would develop strategies for reopening businesses. The Back to Business Task Force will include one appointed member of the county's Small Business Commission from each supervisor district, and representatives from restaurants, hotels and resorts, chambers of commerce, gyms, daycares, area attractions, film and live performance theaters and event centers.

• UA President Robert C. Robbins said last week during an appearance on Bill Buckmaster's radio show that he didn't see football games returning in the fall, although the university would likely resume face-to-face classes, alongside online options. Robbins has warned that a return to normal life could be months away—or longer. "Until there's a vaccine, we're never going to be completely risk free," Robbins said. "That's probably a year at least before we would have a vaccine." The UA is bracing for the possibility that many out-of-state and international students might not return to campus in the fall because of the outbreak, which could lead to financial calamity for the university. The UA has announced furloughs for all employees, along with other pay cuts for high-paid employees.

• Congressman Raul Grijalva joined with various immigration groups to call for an end to border wall construction during the outbreak, saying that government officials and construction workers risk infecting border communities, which are frequently impoverished. "This virus has opened up a portal," Grijalva said. "And as you walk through it, we're seeing who's left behind. We're seeing where the relief is not reaching people."■

Additional reporting by Tucson Weekly staff.

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