With 783 new cases reported today, the total number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases topped 827,000 as of Monday, March 8, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Pima County, which reported 103 new cases today, has seen 110,590 of the state’s 827,237 confirmed cases.
A total of 16,328 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 2,261 deaths in Pima County, according to the March 8 report.
The number of hospitalized COVID cases statewide dipped below 1,000 this weekend for the first time since November. A total of 919 coronavirus patients were in the hospital as of March 7. That’s roughly 18% 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.
A total of 990 people visited emergency rooms on March 7 with COVID symptoms. That number is roughly 42% 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 256 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on March 7, which is roughly 22% 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.
Back to business: Ducey lifts occupancy limits
Gov. Doug Ducey announced Friday he was rescinding his previous executive order limiting occupancy capacity for restaurants, gyms, theaters, water parks, bowling alleys and bars with dine-in service.
The governor’s new executive order still allows local communities to enforce mask mandates, but businesses can return to full occupancy “effective immediately.”
“We’ve learned a lot over the past year. Our businesses have done an excellent job at responding to this pandemic in a safe and responsible way,” Ducey said. “We will always admire the sacrifice they and their employees have made and their vigilance to protect against the virus.”
Ducey also gave Spring Training and major league sports the green light to proceed, provided they submit a plan on how they will implement CDC and state guidelines to the Arizona Department of Health Services and it received approval.
The executive order also precludes local municipalities to implement “extreme measures” that would stop businesses from operating.
“Unlike other states, we never did a shutdown here in Arizona. We withstood the calls from the extremes on both sides, and we will continue to ignore them,” Ducey said. “We always knew that fighting this virus would be dependent on the personal responsibility of everyday Arizonans.
While Ducey said the new executive order was a “measured approach” in response to the state’s vaccination efforts, he noted Arizona is “not in the clear yet” and urged citizens to continue proper COVID-19 safety protocols.
Tucson Mayor Regina Romero encouraged residents to continue taking precautions to guard against the virus.
“Mayors stepped up to lead at a time when our Governor failed to act with common sense, science-based measures, including local mask mandates," Romero said. "Although cases are declining, we must continue to keep our guard up and protect our neighbors and loved ones.”
Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said he would ask the Board of Supervisors to bring county regulations in alignment with the new state regulations at the next meeting.
“It’s worth noting that today’s action by the governor restores occupancy limits similar to what the Board had imposed in May, allowing for occupancy greater than 50 percent if distancing could be maintained,” Huckelberry said. “In order to match the state’s more restrictive requirements, the Board of Supervisors modified operational rules and guidelines for restaurants in July to include the tighter occupancy limit.”
Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, called the announcement “no big deal.”
On his blog, Humble, who headed up ADHS in the Brewer administration, said “those mitigation ‘requirements’ were just on paper anyway. They were never enforced by the ADHS and for all practical purposes never really existed. Businesses have been and will continue to do what they think their customers expect. They have known for many months that they don’t actually have to follow the mitigation measures ‘required’ by ADHS- because there has never been any enforcement.”
Pima County health advisory drops voluntary curfew, allows gatherings of up to 25
As conditions continue to improve, the Pima County Health Department relaxed some restrictions in a new public health advisory that dropped the county’s voluntary curfew, lifted the recommended cap on safe gatherings from 10 people to 25 people and allowed the reopening of parks and rec facilities with a limit of 50 spectators and face mask requirements for all those in attendance except for athletes who are actively playing the sport.
“We want to continue cautiously moving forward,” said Dr. Theresa Cullen, Health Department Director. “There are encouraging signs across the board as far as cases, hospitalizations, and vaccine distribution but, we cannot let our guard down.” See the new health advisory here.
Hundreds of Arizonans still dying every week
While COVID cases are trending in the right direction, UA School of Public Health epidemiologist and public health professor Dr. Joe Gerald warned that COVID will likely continue to kill hundreds of Arizonans a week through the end of March.
On the positive side, the state appeared headed into a state of moderate risk with most counties now transmitting fewer than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents each week, but that’s still two to three times as high as the low point reached between the summer and winter waves.
“Hospitals remain busy and hundreds of Arizonans continue to die each week so we must encourage continued adherence to the recommended public health mitigation efforts,” Gerald wrote in his weekly update on the state’s COVID numbers. “Doing more to slow transmission (and keep it low) will ensure more at-risk Arizonans can be vaccinated.”
Gerald noted that in the week ending Feb. 28, at least 6,872 COVID-19 people tested positive for COVID, a 29% drop in the previous week’s tally of 9,649 cases.
Hospitals continued to see relief; as of March 5, 966 patients were hospitalized outside of ICUs, a drop of 27% from the previous week and 81% from the Jan. 11 peak of 5,082 patients, according to Gerald’s report. That same day, 280 COVID patients were in ICU beds, a drop of 33% from the previous week and 76% from the Jan. 11 peak.
In the week ending Feb. 28, 826 people in Pima County tested positive, a drop of 24% compared to the previous week, with cases being diagnosed at a rate of 79 per 100,000 residents.
Gerald said he was generally supportive of the idea of returning students to the classroom, particularly those in kindergarten through fifth grade, but warned that if the virus began spreading more rapidly, Ducey’s order doesn’t offer many opportunities to reverse course.
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 shots to people 65 and older as well as educators, first responders and healthcare workers. Those who qualify in Pima County’s 1B priority group of eligible vaccine recipients can register for a vaccine at www.pima.gov/covid19vaccineregistration or by calling 520-222-0119.
The county plans to expand eligibility to those 55 and older as well as frontline workers once officials estimate that 55% of the currently eligible population has been vaccinated.
A state-run vaccination site at the University of Arizona was accepting first dose applications as of Monday, March 7. As the state-run POD, or point of distribution, registrations at the UA vaccination site will go through ADHS’s website. You can make an appointment at pod vaccine.azdhs.gov, 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) 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 pima.gov/covid19testing.
The University of Arizona’s antibody testing can determine if you have had COVID and now have antibodies. To sign up for testing, visit https://covid19antibodytesting.arizona.edu/home.
—with additional reporting from Austin Counts, Christina Duran, Jeff Gardner and Mike Truelsen