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With 939 new cases reported today, the total number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases closed in on 813,000 as of Thursday, Feb. 25, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County, which reported 180 new cases today, has seen 108,952 of the state’s 812,907 confirmed cases.

With 121 new deaths reported today, a total of 15,814 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 2,202 deaths in Pima County, according to the Feb. 25 report.

The number of hospitalized COVID cases statewide has declined in recent weeks, with 1,385 coronavirus patients in the hospital as of Feb. 24. That’s less than a third 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 1,210 people visited emergency rooms on Feb. 24 with COVID symptoms, a big drop from 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 415 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Feb. 24, down from a peak of 1,183 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.

How to get a vaccine

While supplies are 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.

A state-run vaccination site opening at the University of Arizona began appointments last week. The new site follows the state’s current vaccine eligibility, which includes those 65 and older, educators, childcare workers and protective service workers.

The POD is expanding its hours of operation from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m seven days a week.

As the state-run POD, or point of distribution, registrations will go through ADHS’s website. Online registration will be available at podvaccine.azdhs.gov, and those who need assistance can call 1-844-542-8201. More details here.

Eight CVS pharmacies throughout Arizona are set to begin offering COVID-19 vaccines starting today, but CVS is not yet announcing which locations. Company officials say this is to avoid “stores from being overwhelmed by those who may seek a vaccination without making an appointment," but they have confirmed vaccinations will be offered in Pima, Maricopa, Mohave, Pinal and Yuma counties. Rather than selecting a specific store, patients choose their city.

Patients must register in advance at CVS.com or through the CVS Pharmacy app. People without online access can contact CVS Customer Service: (800) 746-7287. Walk-in vaccinations without an appointment will not be provided. Per the state of Arizona, eligible individuals for the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program are people age 65 and over, health care workers, protective services, teachers and childcare providers.

As more supply becomes available, the company will expand vaccine access through an increasing number of store locations and in more Arizona counties.

Click here to register in advance for a vaccine at a CVS location.

Local school districts moving toward more on-campus instruction

TUSD remains on track to reopen its schools on Wednesday, March 24, for the first time since it went to remote learning after the March 2020 spring break.

But TUSD Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo said teachers remained concerned about vaccination appointments and class sizes, among other issues.

“I don't think it's any secret that our teachers are not happy,” he said at a press conference yesterday. “They're very concerned right now about coming back.”

Trujillo said the district would be surveying employees and hoped that many of their concerns would be worked out before students return to campus.

Trujillo also said that the district would extend a Feb. 28 deadline for parents to choose their learning option to March 7 because more than four out of 10 parents have yet to make a choice about whether they want to return to school or remain remote.

So far, 30% of TUSD parents have said they will continue with remote learning, 29% have said they will return to in-school instruction and 41% have yet to make a choice.

“If this trend holds up for the remaining 41%, it looks like we're going to be an even 50/50 split, in terms of a district that has half of its student body studying remotely and half of it studying in some sort of in-person learning opportunity,” Trujillo said.

For elementary schools grades K-5 and three K-8 schools (Drachman, C.E. Rose and McCorkle), there are two options available: either attend full-time on-campus Monday through Friday or remain 100% remote. High schools and middle schools, grades 6-12, also have two options. A parent can choose to have their child stay 100% remote or four half-days of in-person learning, meaning students will be on-campus in the morning and remote learning in the afternoon, with Wednesday as 100% remote learning.

Trujillo said the district also came to an agreement with the Tucson Education Association and the Educational Leadership Institute to allow teachers to simultaneously teach both in-person and remote learning students at elementary schools.

“[This] would eliminate the need for any schedule changing that has been a big concern from parents, from teachers and from principals,” said Trujillo. “This new option is going to require a supermajority of each campus's teaching community, 80%, to be able to have a particular school declared campus-wide simultaneous teaching sites.”

However, high schools and middle schools do not have this option as they are required by the state to show 720 hours of instruction through their bell schedules.

Other school districts are also working toward resuming more on-campus activity as COVID cases in Pima County continue to decline from the winter surge.

Marana Unified School District is planning to move to full five days of in-person instruction as of March 22, while keeping remote learning as an option for families. However, the district is still coordinating with schools and aims to confirm the March 22 return date next week, said Alli Benjamin, Director of Public Relations and Community Engagement for Marana.

The district outlined three approaches to return to a full five days of in-person learning: a phased approach, where pre-K through 6th-grade students would return to instruction first; another phased approach in which pre-K through 8th-grade students would return first to in-person learning; or a third approach with a “full implementation, returning students in pre-K through 12th grade at once.”

The nearby Amphi School District, which now has a hybrid program with students attending two days a week and working remotely three days a week, is still considering when to have students back on campus five days a week.

“A lot of people, of course, given the actions of other school districts across our community, are asking the $64,000 question,” said Superintendent Todd Jaeger at the Amphitheater School District’s board meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 23. “‘Can that be, for example after spring break, on March 22?’ The truth is, as I sit here right now. I still don't know.”

Jaeger said the Amphi staff is looking into phased-in approaches or a full reopening and will be sending out another survey to families as well as looking for input from staff, including not only teachers, but “our custodians and our groundsman and carpenters and whoever supports the operations of our schools.”

Jaeger noted that returning to full in-person learning depends on the vaccination progress as well and said their district is ahead in the percent of vaccinations.

Get tested: Pima County has free COVID testing

After the state agreed to provide additional funding to keep testing centers open through at least March 2, 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), the Udall Center (7200 E. Tanque Verde Road) and downtown (88 E. Broadway).

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

In addition, the Pima County Health Department, Pima Community College and Arizona State University have partnered to create new drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites at three Pima Community College locations. At the drive-thru sites, COVID-19 testing will be offered through spit samples instead of nasal canal swabs. Each site will conduct testing from 9 a.m. to noon, and registration is required in advance. Only patients 5 years or older can be tested.

Schedule an appointment at these or other pop-up sites at pima.gov/covid19testing.

The University of Arizona’s antibody testing has been opened to all Arizonans as the state attempts to get a handle on how many people have been exposed to COVID-19 but were asymptomatic or otherwise did not get a test while they were ill. To sign up for testing, visit https://covid19antibodytesting.arizona.edu/home.

—with additional reporting from Austin Counts, Jeff Gardner, Nicole Ludden and Mike Truelsen 

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