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This Week in COVID: 6,000 Dead, Schools Chief Calls to Avoid Gatherings

Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman.
Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman.
Kathy Hoffman

It's Tuesday, November 10. More than 259,000 Arizonans have contracted COVID-19 and more than 6,160 have died from it. Here's what happened in the last week:

While attention was focused on the historic presidential election, Arizona passed a grim milestone. Over 6,000 Arizonans have lost their lives to COVID-19 in the eight months since the beginning of March. The vast majority of deaths occurred during the huge wave of cases over the summer. The number of people killed each day had dropped since then but is now climbing back up to an average of around 25 lives lost daily. Deaths are considered a "lagging indicator" due to the time that goes by from a positive test to a death, meaning that numbers are certain to increase in coming days as overall cases continue to climb.

The rate at which COVID-19 is spreading through the community continues to increase. The average number of new daily cases has topped 1,600 with no sign of slowing. The last time case numbers were this high and rising was mid-June. While the number of new cases each day is not increasing as quickly as then, "it is rising consistently day-over-day and that's a concern," Joshua LaBaer, the head of Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute, told the media last Wednesday.

Nationally, new cases have topped 100,000 each day. That's the equivalent of more than the entirety of the outbreak in Wuhan each day, LaBaer said.

Almost half of new Arizona cases were in the 20-year-old to 44-year-old demographic, and were largely among college-age Arizonans, said Arizona Department of Health Services Director Cara Christ in a video message last Thursday. The younger demographics of cases and an increase in outpatient treatment for COVID-19 has meant that fewer people dealing with the disease have been hospitalized, but the number of ICU beds in use by COVID-19 patients has still doubled since the beginning of October. While 80 percent is considered to be a benchmark under which intensive-care units have ample capacity, statewide capacity is at 86 percent. Hospital usage is also considered to be a lagging indicator, meaning that it will continue to increase in coming days.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman asked parents to avoid gatherings outside of school that are affecting efforts to keep schools open. "Dr. Christ and our public health officials have been telling us for several weeks that we are experiencing a new spike in COVID-19, and without serious changes from us, the adults making daily choices that determine a virus' path, we can not expect these numbers to head in a safe direction," she told the media on Monday. Hoffman said school leaders are facing difficult decisions, citing two high-school coaches she said had died in the last two weeks.

In Maricopa County, 18 school districts are in areas with a "substantial" spread of COVID-19, meaning they should be doing virtual-only learning. With the exception of just three districts, the remaining districts are in the "moderate" phase, meaning districts should conduct a hybrid between online and in-person learning.

At the same briefing, Christ reiterated that things were going in the wrong directions, and said the state was introducing a new campaign to encourage parents to follow public health guidelines. The state is offering free masks to families, expanding testing availability, and releasing recommendations on how to make family gatherings safer, including holding events outside, reducing the number of attendees, and increasing indoor ventilation and spacing.

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The city of Tempe has said it will cite the organizers of a November 1 Christian rock concert and unmasked mass that drew thousands of people to the Tempe Town Lake. City officials said in a press release that the event was unpermitted, and that organizers will be billed for the costs of monitoring and cleaning up the event. The group organizing the event, Let Us Worship, has organized similar gatherings in cities across the country.

Trump campaign adviser David Bossie is the latest member of the president's inner circle to contract COVID-19. Bossie attended an election night party with President Donald Trump's White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on Tuesday. Meadows tested positive for COVID-19 the next day, and Bossie — appointed to replace him on post-election strategy as a result — held a press conference with Republican elected officials in Arizona on Thursday. Bossie ultimately tested positive on Sunday as part of mandatory testing at the White House. Bloomberg broke the story.

Pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced that it was seeing 90 percent success with its vaccine trial. The national trial included people in the Valley. One of them was state legislator Amish Shah, an emergency room doctor. If a vaccine is distributed, here's who may get first dibs in Arizona.

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