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In Pima County, the entire month of December saw nearly 40% of the total number of COVID-19 cases reported since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a memorandum from County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.

Furthermore, a new public health advisory issued by the county’s health department revealed one out of every 1,000 Pima County residents has died from COVID-19.

With large gatherings over the holidays, experts expect case counts and coronavirus deaths to increase with “no plateau yet in the immediate horizon,” the administrator’s memo says.

As of Dec. 30, Pima County had only 5 ICU beds available. Bed usage hit a record of 370 ICU beds occupied, with 53% of them holding COVID-19 patients. There were 42 medical surge beds available, according to the county administrator’s memo.

Meanwhile, 87 patients waited in emergency departments to receive care in inpatient beds—more than 60% of them with COVID-19.

Setting a new record for the county, 145 ventilators were in use by coronavirus patients out of 250 in use overall.

In a Facebook post on Dec. 31, the Pima County Health Department reported that for the entire month of December, there was an average of 11 COVID-19 deaths per day.

At county hospitals, there was an average of 545 COVID-19 patients seen daily.

Dr. Joe Gerald, a professor at the University of Arizona who creates weekly coronavirus epidemiology reports based on ADHS data, estimated that by late December, coronavirus deaths would exceed 500 a week. However, COVID-19 death reporting lags by 14 days, and officials don’t yet know if this number was reached.

If you plan to celebrate the New Year tonight, please do it at your own home with only the people who live in the home....

Posted by Pima County Health Department on Thursday, December 31, 2020

The professor reported Pima County diagnosed 8% more COVID-19 cases in the week ending Dec. 20 than the week prior, representing a new record for cases reported in a single week at 7,810 cases.

According to Gerald, increased transmission of the virus is occurring across all age groups, and 2021 will likely start the same way 2020 ended: with the widespread transmission of coronavirus calling for increased safety mitigation to stop it.

The county health department released a new public health advisory on Dec. 30 calling for increased compliance to its safety guidelines, including the mandatory 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, 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. Businesses are asked to limit their occupancy to 25% of total capacity and maximize the number of employees who work from home.

“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 new health advisory says.

However, vaccination has yet to reach an “accelerated phase” in Pima County. The county administrator’s memo says 12,283 Pima County residents have been vaccinated as of Dec. 30, representing 1% of the county’s population.

Gov. Doug Ducey has issued an executive order to expand the COVID-19 vaccines’ reach by streamlining distribution and creating more vaccination sites.

The order requires the Arizona Department of Health Services to “increase access and ensure rapid distribution” of the vaccine, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

“Any delay in the vaccine getting to Arizonans, any dose that sits in a freezer rather than reaching the arm of a health care worker or long-term care resident, carries too great a cost,” the release says. “This is a health emergency, and we need all levels of government and our health system operating as such. Vaccines don’t do any good sitting in a freezer.”