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With more than 5,600 new cases reported today, the number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases topped 641,000 as of Wednesday, Jan 13, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County, which reported 830 new cases today, has seen 85,256 of the state’s 641,729 confirmed cases.

A total of 10,673 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 1,335 deaths in Pima County, according to the Jan. 13 report.

The number of hospitalized COVID cases statewide continues to soar as the virus has begun to spread more rapidly, putting stress on Arizona’s hospitals and surpassing July peaks. ADHS reported that as of Jan. 12, 5,055 COVID patients were hospitalized in the state, a slight drop from yesterday’s 5,082. The summer peak of 3,517 hospitalized COVID patients was set on July 13; that number hit a subsequent low of 468 on Sept. 27, or less than a tenth of the current count.

A total of 2,082 people visited emergency rooms on Jan. 12 with COVID symptoms, down from the record high of 2,341 set on Tuesday, Dec. 29. That number had previously peaked at 2,008 on July 7; it hit a subsequent low of 653 on Sept. 28.

A total of 1,158 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Jan. 12. The summer’s record number of patients in ICU beds was 970, set on July 13. The subsequent low was 114 on Sept. 22.

A website that tracks COVID infections across the globe reports that Arizona continues to have a COVID transmission rate far above the United States as a whole.

The website 91-divoc.com, which uses data from Johns Hopkins University, reports that Arizona is seeing a record 134.7 infections per 100,000 people on a seven-day average, compared to 75.2 infections per 100,000 for the United States as a whole.

Pressure on Pima County hospitals continues to rise. As of Monday, Jan. 11, a record number of 243 COVID patients were in ICU beds, accounting for 68% of ICU beds. Only 20 ICU beds were available in the county, according to the Pima County Health Department.

The death toll among COVID continued to rise with 46 deaths over the weekend, bringing the total since Jan. 1 to 172.

TUSD employees will have limited access to COVID-19 vaccines

Teachers included in the next phase of Pima County’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout will have less access to vaccine doses than originally expected, Tucson Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Gabriel Trujillo said at a governing board meeting Tuesday.

At a press conference on Jan. 8, Trujillo announced a registration website will go live Friday where TUSD employees can make an appointment to receive a vaccine at one of Pima County’s vaccination sites and schedule a follow up for a second dose 28 days later.

However, the Pima County Health Department has notified TUSD there may not be enough vaccine supply to vaccinate the hundreds of thousands who qualify for the vaccine in phase 1B, which includes prioritized essential workers in education and protective services, essential workers in fields like transportation and government, adults in congregate settings with high-risk medical conditions and individuals older than 75.

In its first week of vaccine implementation on Jan. 18, the district could be limited to 100 to 200 vaccine appointments weekly for up to a month, Trujillo said.

UA professor: Virus “is mowing through Arizona like a sharpened scythe”

The latest COVID-19 report from a University of Arizona professor shows an increase in already alarming coronavirus numbers as the state continues to set records for weekly case counts. Those numbers are likely even higher in reality because of a backlog in reporting.

Dr. Joe Gerald, who creates weekly coronavirus epidemiology reports based on Arizona Department of Health Services data, had little good news to share in this week’s report.

“The [coronavirus] is mowing through Arizona like a sharpened scythe,” Gerald wrote in the report. “Fatalities are stacking up like cordwood in advance of a long winter. Barring intervention, daily cases and fatalities will double or perhaps quadruple before the outbreak collapses under the weight of natural, not vaccine-induced, immunity later this spring.”

The week ending Jan. 3 saw 56,108 new COVID-19 cases statewide, a 35% increase from the week prior.

Coronavirus testing positivity reached 35% that week, setting a new record for the state.

Arizona has also surpassed its deadliest week from the summer surge in cases, and the week ending Dec. 20 now holds the highest number of COVID-19 deaths at 709. Gerald predicts weekly death counts will exceed 700 in the coming weeks.

Gerald said testing capacity and uptake remains lower than levels observed on Dec. 20, indicating the reported numbers are likely higher in reality.

“The test positivity rate for traditional . . . PCR testing set another record this week at 35% positivity,” he wrote. “This indicates a substantial mismatch between testing capacity and demand and supports the notion that viral transmission is growing faster than case counts alone would suggest, that our viral control measures are wholly inadequate, and our testing capacity compared to other regions is poor.”

Pima County reported 7,470 positive COVID-19 tests the week ending Jan. 3, a 25% increase from the previous week, Gerald reported.

Furthermore, the CDC has indicated Arizona has a faster transmission rate than any other state.

As of Jan. 3, new COVID-19 cases in Arizona were appearing at a rate of 780 cases per 100,000 of the population, a rate that’s increasing by nearly 220 cases per 100,000 a week.

More details here.

Former TUSD Board member Mike Hick dies after contracting COVID

Mike Hicks, who served two terms on the TUSD school board after winning elections in 2010 and 2014, died after contracting COVID. He was 62.

Hicks, who also sought seats on the Tucson City Council and in the Arizona Legislature since leaving the school board, entered a hospital on Dec. 12 and was placed on a ventilator in an intensive care unit on Dec. 15, according to GoFundMe fundraiser for his medical bills.

High school winter sports back on

After initially canceling the winter sports season last week, the Arizona Interscholastic Association voted 5-4 vote reverse course and reinstate the Arizona high school winter sports season at a special executive board meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 12.

The high school winter sports season will start Monday, Jan. 18, with a mask mandate for all coaches, student-athletes and officials during competitive play. Masks must be a cloth mask that covers the mouth and the nose, said David Hines, AIA executive director.

“Athletics is a choice and if a student makes the choice to play with their AIA school team, a mask will be required. No exceptions,” he said. “This is consistent with 16 states across the country that have the same protocols or modifications in place.”

The executive board also voted to not allow fans at winter season high school sports events, and teams will have to complete an AIA-issued COVID-19 monitoring form and give it to the opposing team prior to the competition or contest.

However, the board voted to allow up to two parents or guardians per home-team athlete to attend if state and local guidelines and the hosting facility’s occupancy under social distancing guidelines permit attendance.

UA resuming classes today

The University of Arizona will return to classes Wednesday in stage 1 of its reentry plan where students can attend in-person instruction for essential courses, UA President Dr. Robert Robbins shared in a news conference Monday.

The university implemented a COVID-19 “testing blitz” from Jan. 6-12 where all dorm residents, students attending in-person classes and those who plan to spend time on the main campus must receive a coronavirus test.

So far, 108 individuals have tested positive out of 6,184 tests during the blitz. From Jan. 4-10, UA found 179 positive coronavirus cases after administering 8,060 tests for a positivity rate of 2.2%.

Out of the 1,336 students who have moved into their campus residences, nine have moved into isolation dorms and seven are self-quarantining off-campus, Robbins said. Most dorm residents will move in within “the next several days,” he said.

All students coming from outside Pima County for the spring semester are expected to self-quarantine off-campus for seven days.

Throughout the semester, students living in dorms or attending in-person classes will be required to take a COVID-19 test every week. Those who test positive will be provided an isolation dorm to self-quarantine.

UA Reentry Task Force Director Richard Carmona discussed alarming state and countywide data that shows the widespread transmission of the virus.

In Arizona, COVID-19 cases have increased by 52% and deaths 137% during the past 14 days.

Carmona called coronavirus cases in Pima County “off the chart” as 1,189 cases were reported Monday. However, the actual number may be higher due to a backlog of cases yet to be reported.

“The numbers are still very, very challenging, and we are extremely concerned about a lag in data and the fact that we have not yet fully appreciated the burden that we’re going to accept from all the travel over Christmas and New Year's,” Carmona said.

Robbins estimated by Jan. 22, UA will serve as a point of distribution for COVID-19 vaccines when phase 1B of vaccination rollout begins as early as this week.

More details here.

Get tested: Pima County has free COVID testing

Pima County offers 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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