With more than 7,300 new cases reported today, the number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases topped 649,000 as of Thursday, Jan 14, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Pima County, which reported 1,089 new cases today, has seen 86,345 of the state’s 649,040 confirmed cases.
A total of 10,855 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 1,362 deaths in Pima County, according to the Jan. 14 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. 13, 4,930 COVID patients were hospitalized in the state, a slight drop from yesterday’s 5,055. 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 2,055 people visited emergency rooms on Jan. 13 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 1,167 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Jan. 13. 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 131.6 infections per 100,000 people on a seven-day average, compared to 74.7 infections per 100,000 for the United States as a whole.
Pima County unveils vaccination plan
As Pima County prepares to provide COVID-19 vaccines to a much wider segment of the population this week with a limited number of vaccines on hand, the county health department has announced its plan to prioritize the vaccination of specific segments of the hundreds of thousands of individuals who qualify.
“We are in a very vaccine-constrained environment right now, but we do not want to be in an administrative and distribution constrained environment,” County Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen said at a press conference today. “So we challenged ourselves - it was only 10 days ago - to figure out how to give 300,000 vaccines in three months.”
Phase 1B of vaccine rollout includes prioritized education and protective service workers, essential workers in fields like transportation and government, adults in congregate settings with high-risk medical conditions and individuals over 75.
However, the 1B phase will be divided into sub-segments of 1B.1 and 1B.2. The 1B.1 group includes those over 75, teachers and childcare providers and prioritized protective service workers such as law enforcement and emergency response staff.
Those who qualify under 1B.1 can register to receive vaccines as the registration websites become available. According to Pima County Communications Director Mark Evans, the first two registration sites for Banner North and Tucson Medical Center will go live Thursday. Both locations prioritize the 75+ population.
In addition to the Banner North and Tucson Medical Center vaccination centers used to provide vaccines to group 1A beginning in December, Pima County is adding Kino Stadium, the University of Arizona, Tucson Convention Center and Rillito Racetrack as vaccine sites.
The county asks those in the 75+ age group to receive their vaccinations at Banner North, Kino Stadium or Tucson Medical Center. Teachers should go through The University of Arizona and protective service workers should register at the Tucson Convention Center.
Evans said the registration site for Kino Stadium will go up Monday, while Tucson Convention Center and the University of Arizona sites will go live next week. An exact date has not been announced.
Rillito Racetrack will open as a vaccine site in “February or late January” for any remaining individuals in the 1B population, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry wrote in a memo attached to the county’s new immunization plan.
In the first weeks of vaccine rollout to the 75+ population, those over 85 will receive vaccines the first week, ages 80-84 the second week and ages 75-79 the third week. All individuals over 75 can receive the vaccine throughout 1B, which the health department estimates will last until the end of March, Huckelberry’s memo stated.
The 75+ group is being prioritized because COVID-19 infections among this age group are more likely to result in death, Cullen shared.
“We look at our mortality and our hospitalization data, and we have a clear demarcation at 75 and up. Not to say that 65 to 75 don't suffer from this disease and have mortality associated with it, but our highest mortality and our highest hospitalization is that it's in that 75 and up group,” Cullen said.
The county is working on setting up a call line for those without computer access, according to Cullen.
Those in group 1B.2, such as power and utility workers, state and local government employees and transportation workers, may have access to the vaccine by March depending on vaccine availability, according to the health department’s COVID-19 Accelerated Immunization Plan.
Huckelberry’s memo estimates 275,000 to 325,000 individuals will qualify for the vaccine under the entire 1B group. As of Jan. 12, Pima County received 80,525 COVID-19 vaccine doses.
According to the health department’s immunization plan, the county has established a minimum goal of 300,000 immunizations by March 31 “if sufficient vaccine is available.” At a maximum, the county could administer 775,030 immunizations by March 31 if “vaccine supply is not an issue and staffing and related resources can be procured."
But with only 12,000 vaccines administered to Pima County weekly, the county is relying on larger future allocations to vaccinate what Cullen estimates to be 150,000 individuals in 1B’s priority group of those 75 and older, prioritized protective service workers and educators.
“If you do that math, we're obviously two and a half months before we get through this group. However, we do anticipate that there will be acceleration of our vaccine delivery,” Cullen said. “On the website, once we reveal it, you will see additional information about how you will register to get a vaccine and who can be vaccinated.”
With about 12,000 vaccine doses provided by the state weekly, Huckelberry said Pima County will need another 20,000 vaccines per week throughout January, 30,000 a week through February and 40,000 a week through March.
“If we get additional vaccine, I think delays will be small . . . if we only get 12,000 shots a week, we're looking at a high number of weeks before we get through this population,” Cullen said.
Nearly 1 in 10 Arizonans is now battling COVID-19
Leaders from five Arizona hospital systems provided distressing news on the continuously worsening presence of COVID-19 in the state at a press briefing yesterday.
For weeks, Arizona has topped the charts for the highest coronavirus infection rate in the nation. Chief Clinical Officer of Banner Health Dr. Marjorie Bessel said nearly 1 in 10 Arizonans is currently battling COVID-19.
The state’s total number of deaths surpassed 10,000 this week.
Bessel said 58% of Arizona’s hospital beds are holding COVID-19 patients, a percentage that’s even higher in its ICUs.
If the virus continues spreading at its current pace, Dr. Alyssa Chapital, Hospital Medical Director at Mayo Clinic warned the state will meet the dire point where the needs of the community surpass hospitals’ resources—the most critical being hospital staff.
If hospitals run out of these resources, they would triage care, meaning each patient is evaluated on the necessity of their care compared to others and resources are allocated to those most in need of them.
Frey said the state’s hospitals agreed no one hospital would activate triage based on the Arizona Crisis Standards of Care plan unless they all reached the point of critical resource shortage needed to do so.
“We have educated our staff about it, but it is our sincere hope that Arizonans can help slow the spread of this virus to avoid a triage situation,” Chapital said.
Tucson Jazz Fest canceled
COVID cancellations continue into the new year with the organizers for the annual Tucson Jazz Festival announcing that the 2021 festival is off.
Although this year's event was scheduled to take place outside in Armory Park, and with a smaller lineup and timeframe than previous years, the organizers have decided even the reduced event isn't feasible with Arizona claiming the worst viral spread in the nation.
"While we hoped by March of 2021 we would be able to host the Festival in a safe, enjoyable manner, it is now clear it's just not worth the risk," said festival executive director Khris Dodge. "We all look forward to the time when we can gather and enjoy live music together, but for now our priority must be the safety and well-being of our community."
The event organizers are currently working on plans for the 2022 festival, tentatively scheduled for Jan. 14-23. For more information, visit tucsonjazzfestival.org.
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