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This Week in COVID: Case Numbers Up Like Early June, Expert Says

Arizona's COVID-19 cases are entering a second curve, an ASU expert says.
Arizona's COVID-19 cases are entering a second curve, an ASU expert says.
The COVID Tracking Project

It's Tuesday, October 20. Over 231,000 Arizonans have contracted COVID-19 and 5,830 have died from it. Here's what happened in the last week:

COVID-19 cases are verging on an exponential increase, says Joshua LaBaer, executive director of Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute. "If you look at our numbers right now, it looks a lot like the beginning of June and we all know what happened thereafter," he told reporters at a briefing last Wednesday. As of Monday, Arizona is averaging 835 new infections a day with no sign of slowing. The percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive and the number of intensive-care beds used by COVID-19 patients are also increasing statewide, indicators that the increased numbers represent a greater spread of the virus, not just increased testing.

LaBaer said this is the moment to evaluate efforts to bring the virus back under control in Arizona. "What we do know, is public policy worked" to bring the virus down from its peak over the summer, he said. Addressing the virus now will be a balance between public policy, looking at aspects of the reopening, and personal responsibility, continuing to wear masks.

However, the governor's office does not expect to be taking action soon. Three weeks after Governor Doug Ducey declared that Arizona was "open" and would stay that way even if there was a gradual increase in COVID-19 numbers, his spokesperson downplayed the increase and told Arizona Capitol Times no additional restrictions should be expected. The spokesperson said that an increase in cases was expected as schools resume and businesses re-opened.

Maricopa County is currently tracking 26 open COVID-19 outbreaks associated with schools. An outbreak requires two cases of close contacts within the school and remains in that designation until 28 days have passed without an associated case. Schools in Scottsdale, Chandler, Paradise Valley, Mesa, and Peoria have all had students test positive. The J.O. Combs school district, which fought to be one of the first to resume in-person instruction, has closed its high school and told 450 students to quarantine after an outbreak.  While children are less affected by COVID-19, research increasingly shows they serve as a transmission vector, LaBaer said. The Arizona Republic has a database tracking COVID-19 cases in area schools you can see here.

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While COVID-19 numbers are increasing across the board, the outbreaks associated with ASU and the University of Arizona seem to have calmed. U of A has seen a drop from 181 daily cases a month ago to an average of just five. ASU has 104 “active” cases among students, faculty, and staff.

The state wants Dirty’s Topless Sports Bar & Grill to stay clean of COVID-19, ordering it closed for not following COVID-19 restrictions. A lawsuit by a group of bar owners challenging those restrictions is continuing to work its way through the courts. The group's attorney Ilan Wurman has said they hope to take the case to Arizona's supreme court.

With the holidays coming up, LaBaer offered some tips. "This is probably not the best year to get the entire extended family together for a major Thanksgiving feast," he said. Research increasingly shows that COVID-19 spreads most in "super spreader" type events. If you're spending hours in a confined space with someone who has been infected "it's almost guaranteed you will get it." In the past, LaBaer has recommended holding gatherings outdoors. If you do decide to hold them, LaBaer said that family members who work in direct service jobs should have themselves tested shortly before any gathering. Last month, Phoenix New Times wrote about a family in south Phoenix which lost four people to COVID-19 after a small gathering over the summer.

Going to an outdoor pumpkin patch is probably fine and trick-or-treating can be mitigated. The tricks are to avoid prolonged exposure to others and groups, to wear masks, and to disinfect hands or other items before touching your face, LaBaer said. The treat is not infecting others with a deadly disease.

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