Pima County Public Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen shared troubling details on the accelerated transmission of COVID-19 throughout the county amid a new public health advisory at a virtual press conference Wednesday.
Public health officials expect to see more coronavirus cases in December than the nine months between March and October combined.
Currently, one out of every 1,000 Pima County residents has died from COVID-19.
Amid confirmation of a more contagious strain of COVID-19 that originated in the UK being identified in Colorado, Cullen said Arizona health officials are actively looking for the coronavirus variant and have not found any cases in the state, although “that could change quite rapidly,” she said.
Cullen said the county’s hospital beds and ICU capacity remains “very limited,” and many facilities are relying on the Arizona Surge Line to transfer patients based on their necessary level of care.
This morning, there were five ICU beds and 42 medical surge beds available in Pima County. Meanwhile, more than 80 patients were waiting in emergency rooms for admission, Cullen said.
Tucson Medical Center has canceled elective surgeries and on Dec. 28 up to 10 Phoenix-area Banner hospitals diverted patients. This means while hospitals address a growing backlog of patients, they are closed to incoming emergency transfers.
“Our dialogue with the hospitals has been wanting to ensure that people who have, for instance, chest pain or feel like they have symptoms of a stroke...still seek care at the emergency room. So in some ways, we are doing this fine line between wanting to ensure the public is aware this is a serious crisis...and yet at the same time, wanting to say, but if you are ill, please still seek care,” Cullen said. “The ICU beds are the most limited they have ever been. The medical surge beds are the most limited they have ever been.”
As the virus continues to spread throughout the state, as of Dec. 29 more than 10,000 COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the county through Banner, TMC and other health care facilities, according to the advisory. Cullen said nearly 1,000 individuals are being vaccinated every day.
“As we work through this accelerated phase of transmission, we anticipate that we will soon be in an accelerated phase of vaccination, resulting in decreased transmission of COVID-19 and improved community wellness,” the health advisory says.
In the meantime, the county’s mandatory 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew remains in place, and the health department asks citizens to continue adhering to safety guidelines such as staying home as much as possible, physical distancing, mask-wearing, frequent cleaning and avoiding gatherings.
The advisory also mentions all school staff, students and employees are required to report positive COVID-19 tests to their relative organization and follow the county’s isolation and quarantine protocols.
“I want to be clear that the reason for that is for us to provide guidance on mitigation, and if people need additional on-site evaluation for us to come in and look at their workplace, we are more than willing to do that,” Cullen said. “It's been successful, meaning that people have been reporting their cases. We know not everyone is doing that, and we would encourage people to continue to do that.”
Businesses are asked to limit their occupancy to 25% of total capacity and maximize the number of employees who work from home.
“The reason for that is really related to the aerosol and respiratory transmission of the disease, Cullen said. “We know that the more dense packing there is of individuals into a closed space, the more likely there is to have transmission of the disease.”
The updated public health advisory asks recreational facilities such as fitness studios, salons and movie theaters to consider temporary closure.
The new public health advisory is available below: