• The number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases topped 163,000 as of Monday, July 27, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. That’s up from roughly 150,000 on the previous Monday, July 20. Pima County had seen 15,109 of the state’s 163,827 confirmed cases. A total of 3,304 Arizonans had died after contracting COVID-19, according to the July 27 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 27, 2,626 COVID patients were hospitalized in the state, down from a peak of 3,517 on July 13 and the lowest number hospitalized since June 26, when 2,577 COVID patients were hospitalized. A total of 1,189 people visited ERs on July 26 with COVID symptoms. The number of ER visits 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 820 COVID-19 patients were in ICU beds on July 20. That’s the lowest it’s been since July 3, when 796 COVID-19 patients were in ICU. The number in ICUs peaked at 970 on July 13.
• Gov. Doug Ducey and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman announced last week that while school districts have to open up “learning centers” by Aug. 17, they do not have to provide in-class instruction. Instead, the schools can open up for students who need a place to go during the day but offer all online courses, as Tucson Unified School District announced it would do earlier this month. Ducey and Hoffman announced a plan to use metrics regarding the spread of the virus to determine whether schools are safe to reopen. The Arizona Department of Health Services is working with education leaders to develop the standards before Aug. 7. Local school districts have been planning a mix of “distance learning” online instruction and in-school instruction when school starts next month. Unlike in spring, when schools moved online following spring break, districts are planning stricter instructional time designed to mirror traditional in-person classes. See story on Page 1 for details.
• University of Arizona President Robert Robbins said last week that UA would offer a mix of four types of classes: in-person, which will physical distancing and mandated face coverings; flex in-person, which will include both in-class and online instruction; live online, in which students virtually engage with an instructor in real-time on their computers; and iCourses, which students can complete independently through the schools D2L system. Robbins said he anticipated that between faculty, staff and students, there would be about 20,000 people on campus, rather than the usual 60,000 that the fall semester would bring. Students, staff, and faculty will have access to a mix of tests, including PCR tests to determine if they have COVID-19 and antibody tests to determine if they have had it in the past.
• Citing a drop in the total number of cases on a week-to-week basis, Gov. Doug Ducey again said 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. While he once again sidestepped an opportunity to pass a statewide mask mandate, he did roll out TV commercials featuring a boxer who wears a mask. Ducey also extended the closure of nightclubs, gyms, movie theaters, waterparks, tubing operations and some bars. The executive order pausing the operation of those businesses is up for review every two weeks. While coronavirus cases may be on a slight downward trend in the state, Ducey urged Arizonans to stay vigilant by staying at home and wearing masks while practicing social distancing when out in public to continue the fight against the virus. Ducey again warned the state still had a long road ahead in the fight against COVID-19. “We need to continue to be diligent,” Ducey said. “We can’t let up.”
• With Arizona’s COVID-19 cases now topping 150,000, the University of Arizona and the State of Arizona have expanded their free COVID-19 antibody testing program to include 15 new categories of essential workers considered at high risk for exposure. The antibody test, developed by researchers at UA Health Sciences, determines who has been exposed to and developed an immune response against COVID-19. In addition to healthcare workers and first responders, educators, childcare workers, agriculture, grocery and foodservice workers, hospitality employees, solid waste collection workers, transportation services workers and members of the National Guard are eligible for the testing. More information and registration for the test is available at covid19antibodytesting.arizona.edu. See details on Page 9.
• As of Friday, out-of-work Arizonans are no longer eligible for an extra $600 a week in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation after Senate Republicans failed to act on legislation from the U.S. House of Representatives that would have extended the program. The Senate was expected to continue working on a new coronavirus relief package this week. Gov. Ducey last week asked Arizona’s congressional delegation to consider a number of provisions to help Arizona in the latest coronavirus package, including an extension of the extra unemployment dollars. “We understand the concerns from businesses that are having difficulty rehiring employees when the government pays more in unemployment benefits compared to what they were paying their former employees before the pandemic,” Ducey wrote. “We are advocating that, at a minimum, individuals who continue to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, be eligible to receive at least 100% of their weekly earnings that they were making prior to government intervention in their employers’ ability to stay open. It is by no fault of their own that certain businesses have a higher risk of transmission of COVID-19 and therefore are being required to close by the government, and we would advocate that those individuals continue to have extra support from the FPUC.” Ducey also asked the federal government to provide more money to Arizona’s unemployment insurance fund; extend the December deadline for the state’s tribes to spend their pandemic aid dollars; more funding for a program that helps low-income Arizonans pay utility bills that climb in the summer thanks to triple-digit temperatures; and special liability protection to shield healthcare workers, businesses and schools from lawsuits related to COVID-19.
• For the week ending July 18, more than 22,000 Arizonans filed initial jobless claims, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor. Nearly 350,000 Arizonans were unemployed in June, down from a high of 473,000 in April but still enough to put the state’s unemployment rate at 10 percent. That’s a loss of nearly a quarter-million jobs compared to June 2019, according to the Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity. The sectors hit hardest between April and June were restaurants, bars, hotels, and amusement attractions like movie theaters. Compared to 2019 tax collections in the final quarter of the fiscal year, restaurant and bar tax collections were down by 32 percent, lodging tax collections dropped by nearly 63 percent and amusement tax collections dropped by nearly 67 percent. Despite those woeful numbers, state revenues have weathered the outbreak much better than anticipated. Based on preliminary data assembled by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, the state collected $10.97 billion over the fiscal year that ended June 30. That’s a drop of just 2.3 percent over the previous fiscal year. But between the state’s additional spending in response to the virus and an influx of new federal dollars to offset some of those expenses, the state’s final balance has yet to be calculated. Still, state budget forecasters believe that when all is added in, the state will finish fiscal year 2020 with a surplus.
—By Jim Nintzel with additional reporting from Kathleen B. Kunz, Austin Counts, Jeff Gardner and Tara Foulkrod.