This Week In COVID: 65+ Vaccine Eligible in Maricopa County, COVID in City Hall

Phoenix City Hall
Phoenix City Hall City of Phoenix/Facebook
It's Tuesday, February 16. More than 799,000 Arizonans have contracted COVID-19 and more than 14,980 have died as a result. Here's what happened in the last week:

Arizona is averaging 1,782 cases of COVID-19 each day. The average number of new cases each day has continued its steady decline since the second week of January. Cases are now closer to where they were at the beginning of August as the state came out of the summer surge.

Arizona has fallen from the fifth-worst state when it comes to the number of COVID-19 cases by population in the last week to the 14th
. The state averaged 31.9 cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days. This comes after Arizona had led the country for weeks in COVID-19 infections by population. The worst in the country is South Carolina, with 55.9 cases per 100,000 people. North Dakota remains the lowest case rate in the continental United States, with an average of 7.5 cases per 100,000 people in the last week.

The drop in cases across the country may be driven in part by the large portion of the population that has been infected. Joshua LaBaer, executive director of Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute, has said the end of the surge coincided with the end of holiday gatherings and travel. Last Wednesday, he added that there's a chance that a large portion of the people who did not take COVID-19 precautions — or were unable to due to their job — have been infected already, giving them temporary immunity. With those who have been isolating and following other mitigation measures hopefully continuing to do so, that leaves little room for the virus to spread.

People with COVID-19 occupy only a third of intensive-care beds statewide for the first time since late November. Overall, 14 percent of intensive-care beds are available as hospitals work through a backlog of non-COVID-19 patients and towards reestablishing the recommended 20 percent "safety margin." The majority of COVID-19 patients in intensive care, 397 of 601, are still on ventilators.

Banner Health is further easing restrictions on surgeries. The state's largest hospital system is now allowing surgeries that require two nights in intensive-care and unlimited recovery time otherwise. Decisions on specific surgeries are made on a hospital-to-hospital basis. Banner still is not allowing visitors and using extra contract labor and corporate employees to boost hospital staffing.

Death numbers remain high as Arizona feels the end of the winter surge. The death toll lags behind the number of cases due to both reporting delays and the lengthy hospitalizations that can precede death. Overall, the number of dead over the winter dwarfs the number killed by the summer surge. "What looked liked a mountain back then is only a hill," LaBaer said. In one bright spot, Banner is down to only using one of its two refrigerated trailers to store bodies.

COVID-19 is in the shit at Phoenix City Hall. The city recently completed a 12-week pilot program testing wastewater in several of its buildings downtown for COVID-19, spokesperson Vielka Atherton told Phoenix New Times last week. After the bi-weekly testing showed a spike at City Hall, the city deployed one of its testing vans there on Thursday morning, she said. The University of Arizona and the city of Tempe are both also running wastewater testing programs.

A total of 1.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Arizona. More than 933,000 people have received at least one dose and nearly 287,000 have received both needed doses. That's close to 4 percent of the state's population that is protected. Experts says 70 to 90 percent of the state will need to be fully vaccinated to establish herd immunity.

Maricopa County is expanding vaccine eligibility to people aged 65 and older. While state-run vaccination sites in the county had allowed anyone in that age range to get vaccinated, the county had only been offering appointments to people aged 75 and older. As of Monday, the county has expended eligibility to an additional estimated 400,000 adults in the county. More than 44 percent of people aged 75 and older in the county have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

A bunch more pharmacies are offering COVID-19 vaccines, but good luck trying to get an appointment. An additional 182 pharmacies in Maricopa County are now offering vaccinations through a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention program. You can sign up here.

Latino people are vastly underrepresented among the vaccinated population. The Arizona Department of Health Services released racial data on vaccinations as part of a new dashboard. According to census data, 31.7 percent of Arizona's population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, however, only 8.2 percent of people vaccinated identify with that group. At state-run sites the disparity is even greater, with only 3.7 percent of people vaccinated identifying with the ethnic group. The data comes with a large caveat as around a third of people did not report their race. Arizona Department of Health Services (DHS) head Dr. Cara Christ attributed the disparity to the demographics of the groups prioritized to receive vaccines first and said they expected the disparities to resolve as vaccinations become more available in the community at large.

Another potential explanation for the Latino vaccination gap: The state's difficult to use vaccine registration site has not been available in Spanish until today. And even that roll out was delayed. The whole situation drew a facepalm from Arizona's former emergency management director, Wendy Smith-Reeve.

If you want to try and sign up to get vaccinated, here's where to go. If you want to check on county or pharmacy sites, you can go here to find out where to sign up. If you want to register for a state-run site, go here.
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Erasmus Baxter is a staff writer for Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Erasmus Baxter