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With 604 new cases reported today, the total number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases topped 840,000 as of Monday, March 29, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County, which reported 135 new cases today, has seen 112,477 of the state’s 840,492 confirmed cases.

With no new deaths reported this morning, a total of 16, 16,918 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 2,345 deaths in Pima County, according to the March 29 report.

A total of 549 coronavirus patients were in the hospital as of March 28. That’s roughly 11% 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 864 people visited emergency rooms with COVID-like symptoms on March 28. That number represents 37% 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 169 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on March 28, which roughly 14% 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.

Conditions continue to improve but health officials urge caution after Ducey lifts restrictions

Arizona has now seen 10 straight weeks of declining COVID cases and is moving from a period of substantial risk to a period of moderate risk, said Dr. Joe Gerald, an epidemiologist and professor in the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health.

Gerald noted that for the week ending March 21, 3,993 people tested positive for COVID, a drop of 12% over the previous week’s tally of 4,445.

For Pima County, 426 people tested positive for COVID in the week ending March 21, a drop of 16% over the previous week’s 548 cases. New cases are being diagnosed at a rate of 44 per 100K residents a week, which is lower than the 46% per 100K that Pima County hit during the lowest week during the fall relief between the summer and winter waves.

But Gerald warned that “it is becoming more likely that improvements will stall or reverse owing to more transmissible variants and/or further normalization of business and social activities.”

Gerald said it was reasonable to resume low-risk activities but encouraged residents and businesses to continue to follow public health recommendations to wear masks, physically distance when possible, wash hands and, if medically compromised, stay home as much as possible.

After Gov. Doug Ducey last week lifted all COVID-related state restrictions and blocked local governments enacting regulations such as mask mandates, Pima County Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen emphasized the need for continued mitigation and protection against the spread of COVID-19.

“As the governor readily admits, we are still in the midst of a public health emergency. People are still getting sick and dying. It is incumbent upon all of us to do everything we can to prevent the spread of this disease,” Dr. Cullen said. “We need everyone, not just businesses, to take this seriously. We are still in a very deadly situation and if we’re reckless in our behavior, it will get worse, especially now that the COVID variants are established in our county.”

Tucson Mayor Regina Romero criticized Ducey for lifting all COVID-related state restrictions and attempting to block local governments from enacting regulations such as mask mandates.

Romero warned that Ducey’s actions will only “exacerbate community transmission, prolonging the pandemic, and delaying a full reopening of our economy” and said the city charter provided her with clear legal authority to continue implementing the mandate.

Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson echoed the call for caution.

“The governor appears to have declared the pandemic over while still retaining his emergency powers to prevent local jurisdictions from protecting the public from a deadly infectious disease,” said Bronson. “We’ve seen this before. He imposed a shutdown order too late in 2020, then lifted it too early and we had the summer spike in infections. He’s making the same mistake and the tragedy of that is more people will needlessly get sick and may die by his reckless action.”

Ducey reconsiders FEMA offer to set up vax center in low-income, minority neighborhoods

The Arizona Department of Health Services will allow Pima County to independently work with FEMA to run a federal vaccination POD, as long as it does not impact state allocation, said ADHS Director Dr. Cara Christ on Friday afternoon.

Christ said a letter was sent before Friday's media briefing that allows Pima County to work with FEMA.

“Pima County has provided their assurances that they will be able to support these sites,” said Christ. “We are hoping that is without having any impact on any of the other currently operating sites or activities that they have planned and to have in writing that FEMA said that this would remain.”

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said the county would begin working with FEMA “as soon as possible.”

“I thank Gov. Ducey for his thoughtful reconsideration and allowing FEMA to vaccinate more than 210,000 county residents,” Huckleberry said. More details here.

Adults older than 16 now eligible for appointments at state vaccine centers; Pima County expands eligibility to anyone with chronic medical condition

All adults older than 16 are now eligible for appointments at state vaccination PODs.

Previously, vaccines were limited to people 55 and older as well as frontline workers, educators, first responders and healthcare workers.

New appointments for the UA POD will open up at 11 a.m. on Fridays, with the Arizona Department of Health Services announcing the number of appointments opening up on Fridays via a Wednesday Twitter post.

As of last week, Pima County expanded COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to anyone 55 and older and anyone older than 16 with at-risk circumstances.

Anyone living with a high-risk medical condition or disability, experiencing homelessness or living in a group setting, or receiving in-home or long-term care can get the vaccine. Some of the high-risk medical conditions include cancer, chronic kidney disease, heart conditions or compromised immunity.

Those in high-risk jobs will also be eligible.

Although the state has expanded eligibility to anyone over 16, Pima County's guidelines had to be limited, said Dr. Theresa Cullen, Health Department director.

“Our decisions are based on the current vaccination rates for 55 and up (which is at 42%), as well as our commitment to ensure ongoing access to vulnerable populations,” Cullen said last week. “We anticipate appointments will be filled quickly and as we move these groups, we look forward to being able to align with the state's recommendations within the next six weeks.”

You can register for your vaccine appointments at a state POD by visiting pod vaccine.azdhs.gov, and those who need assistance can call 1-844-542-8201.

Those who qualify in Pima County’s priority group of eligible vaccine recipients can register for a vaccine at www.pima.gov/covid19vaccineregistration or by calling 520-222-0119.

Many local pharmacies are now receiving vaccine doses. To find one near you, visit the ADHS website.

ADHS will now announce on Wednesdays via Twitter, @AZDHS, and Facebook the approximate number of first-dose appointments available. The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) will release those new COVID-19 vaccination appointments every Friday.

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