It's Tuesday, March 16. More than 833,000 Arizonans have contracted COVID-19 and more than 16,500 have died as a result. Here's what happened in the last week:
Arizona is averaging 878 cases of COVID-19 each day. After plateauing slightly, average cases finally dropped below a thousand a day over the weekend. The last time cases were this low was around a week before Halloween as they climbed back up from a low of just 373 cases a day in September. While the total number of people getting tested for COVID-19 is low, the percentage of those tests coming back positive is hovering around 5 percent, an arbitrary benchmark that means the spread of COVID-19 in the community is under control.
A growing percentage of the positive tests processed by Arizona State University are potential cases of the more infectious U.K. variant. While the overall number of suspected variants cases is low — last week saw the most with just 20 — there have been days when suspected U.K. variant cases comprised nearly one in five positive tests at ASU. The cases require further testing to confirm that they are the U.K. variant.
The executive director of ASU's Biodesign Institute said that Arizona will be a test case to see if the U.K. variant, which is believed to be more infectious and more deadly than the current form of the virus, can surpass the California variant, which is also considered more infectious and is spreading in the state. Joshua LaBaer said it's possible that the more infectious variants could cause another wave if they become more prevalent. Fortunately, the vaccines now being distributed are considered effective against those variants. "It'll be a little bit of a race between getting the vaccine in arms and how quickly that variant starts to emerge," LaBaer said.
On Friday, the Arizona Department of Health Services (DHS) announced that three cases of the Brazil variant had been confirmed in the state. The more-infectious Brazil variant could be reinfecting people who previously had COVID-19. Yet t the vaccines currently in use are considered effective against it.
People with COVID-19 occupy just 12 percent of intensive-care beds statewide for the first time since the end of October. Overall, 17 percent of intensive-care beds are available as hospitals work toward reestablishing the recommended 20 percent "safety margin." The number of people on ventilators has dropped as well, to just 97. That's a bit less than half of the 206 COVID-19 patients in intensive care.
The number of new deaths added to the state's total also seems to be dropping off. Arizona registered 225 COVID-19 deaths in the last seven days, dropping to 13th in the nation for the number of COVID-19 deaths by population in the last week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than 2.59 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Arizona. Nearly 1.63 million people have received at least one dose, and more than 1 million have received all needed doses. That means around one-seventh of the state's population is protected. Experts say 70 to 90 percent of the state will need to be fully vaccinated to establish herd immunity, with more-infectious variants requiring a percentage on the higher end of that range.
DHS celebrated a milestone 500,000 vaccinations at State Farm Stadium. More than 1 million vaccines have been administered at NFL stadium sites, half at State Farm. "What did I do right to deserve this?" asked Judy, the senior who received the 500,000th dose. She said the vaccine wasn't a big deal to her but she was excited to meet the governor and was a big Cardinals fan.
President Joe Biden announced he wants all Americans to be vaccine-eligible by May 1, with the goal of being able to celebrate a more normal Fourth of July. The administration plans to expand the number of pharmacies, community health centers, and large-scale sites offering the vaccine in the coming weeks. It also is expanding the range of medical professionals who can administer shots to include dentists, veterinarians, and more. The federal government plans to launch a centralized vaccination website and phone line, and deploy teams to help states' fix their vaccination sign-up sites. LaBaer at ASU said he believes Arizona can reach herd immunity by mid-to-late July.
Pressure is increasing on the state to allow people with disabilities to get vaccinated now. A group of 13 state representatives from across the political spectrum sent a letter to the governor calling for those enrolled in the state's long-term care program to receive vaccinations. The state's Developmental Disabilities Advisory Council also sent a lengthy letter to the governor calling for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities and their caregivers to be prioritized for vaccines due to their high-risk status. People with disabilities or other conditions that put them at high-risk would have been eligible for the vaccine under the previous rollout, shortly after frontline workers, but the state's decision to move to an age-based classification has upended things. On Monday, Pima County decided to prioritize people receiving in-home care for disabilities for the vaccine.
One way to get the vaccine before you would be otherwise eligible is to volunteer at one of the state-run vaccination sites. Volunteering nonprofit HandsOn Greater Phoenix is offering opportunities here. Slots fill quickly, so monitor their Twitter and Instagram to be notified 30 minutes before new ones come online.
If you are eligible and want to try and sign up to get vaccinated, here's where to go. If you want to register inside Maricopa County, you can go here to find a location near you. If you want to register for somewhere in the rest of the state, go here.
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