This Week in COVID: No More Mask Mandate in Scottsdale as the U.S. Hits 200,000 Deaths

Rapid Reliable Testing is running COVID-19 test sites for the City of Phoenix.
Rapid Reliable Testing is running COVID-19 test sites for the City of Phoenix. Courtesy of Jeff Davidson
It's Tuesday, September 22. Over 214,250 people have been infected with COVID-19 in Arizona and over 5,478 people have died from it. In the last week, 5,526 new cases and 156 deaths were added to the state's total. The large number of cases added to the total is reflective of a change in methodology, not a large outbreak. Read on to learn more.

More than 200,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. Over half the deaths in Arizona have been in Maricopa County, which has lost at least 3,261 people to the disease — the sixth most of any county in the country, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The county with the most dead nationally is Los Angeles County, followed by three New York City counties and Chicago's Cook County. While Maricopa County lost the most people overall in Arizona, Apache County lost the most people per capita, followed by the other northern counties, as well as Yuma and Santa Cruz counties.

The tally of cases in Arizona saw a big spike as the state expanded which types of test results it counts. The state now includes results from rapid "antigen" tests in its positive test numbers. The tests are less sensitive than standard PCR tests, meaning they only detect higher concentrations of the virus, but some experts have argued that the tests' ability to return results in minutes makes them a valuable screening tool and the University of Arizona has used them heavily as part of its COVID-19 testing regime. The state had previously only counted positives from antigen tests if the person being tested had a known exposure or symptoms, but has now added the additional positive tests to the dashboard — leading to a huge spike in case numbers late last week. Much of the cases were backfilled from earlier this month and daily cases seem fairly steady otherwise besides a small uptick — although it does take a few days for cases results to be added to the total.

Saskia Popescu, a University of Arizona and George Mason University epidemiologist, told local NPR affiliate KJZZ that she's concerned about that uptick in cases.
She attributed it in part to people letting down their guard and not being as diligent about wearing masks or physical distancing. Over the weekend, large groups could be seen gathering both with and without masks along Roosevelt Row and throughout Phoenix.

In a sign of COVID-19 fatigue, Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane issued an order Monday that rescinded the city's mask mandate. Lane cited the improvement over the dire state of affairs this summer and said the mandate had done its job. This may have little impact right now, as Maricopa County's mask mandate remains in place, but the county board of supervisors also had a closed meeting Monday to discuss its mask mandate with public health officials. Numerous experts have repeatedly pointed to mask mandates as the single most effective thing that can be done to control COVID-19 in Arizona.

The University of Arizona has jumped way ahead of Arizona State University in COVID-19 cases. As of Monday night, ASU had 1,701 total cases since the beginning of August and U of A has had 2,030. While ASU still has 263 currently active cases, its official case numbers seem to have flattened while U of A's have ballooned. Joshua LaBaer, executive director of ASU's Biodesign Institute, attributed the trend to a spike as students return to campus, followed by a flattening out. LaBaer joked that the flattening may be due to increased schoolwork.

U of A is continuing its shelter-in-place order even as students party off-campus. President Robert Robbins said Monday that a party of 300 had been dispersed over the weekend. He also said he had been personally exposed to COVID-19 by a student he had dinner with but the two antigen tests he took have come back negative.
ASU has said it will end classes a week early. Following Thanksgiving break at the end of November, the university will go straight into an online-only finals week, The State Press reports.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have dramatically expanded protections for tenants who can't afford to pay rent. Unlike Governor Doug Ducey's order, it's simple to activate, can be invoked at any point, and if used soon enough will prevent an eviction from staining tenants' records. Learn how to take advantage of it here.

The City of Phoenix is offering free COVID-19 testing in the next few weeks. This includes testing with Rapid Reliable Testing, a company that won a city bid to run testing sites. To find the best location for you and pre-register, go here.

You can also sign up for free, rapid saliva testing through ASU here. Anyone can sign up and they offer testing at multiple locations around the state throughout the week.
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Erasmus Baxter is a staff writer for Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Erasmus Baxter