This Week in COVID: 55+ Now Eligible For Some Shots, and Ducey Gets His

Governor Doug Ducey gets a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine from DHS Director Dr. Cara Christ.
Governor Doug Ducey gets a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine from DHS Director Dr. Cara Christ. Governor's Office
It's Tuesday, March 2. More than 818,600 Arizonans have contracted COVID-19 and more than 16,050 have died as a result. Here's what happened in the last week:

Arizona is averaging 1,145 cases of COVID-19 each day. The average number of new cases each day continues to drop, and are closer to where they were in mid-August as the state came out of the summer surge. But they're still not as low as in September, when there were only a few hundred cases reported each day.

It's good news, but cases need to fall further. "I was hoping we would get down to under a thousand cases a day but we seem to be stalling," said Joshua LaBaer, executive director of Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute. LaBaer said it is possible that case numbers are higher than officials believe they are due to the low rate of testing being done. He warned that it's important to keep following mitigation measures and taking precautions if a resurgence of the virus is to be avoided.

LaBaer said that 10 more cases of the more-infectious U.K. COVID-19 variant have been confirmed in the Valley, but it does not appear to be taking off yet. He said the current cases are spread out and there's no sign it's imminent to become the dominant strain of the virus. He did warn that, once again, not enough genome sequencing is being done to have a true sense of the variants out there. LaBaer said that ASU is in talks with the state to ramp up sequencing.

People with COVID-19 occupy only 22 percent of intensive-care beds statewide for the first time since late November. Overall, 15 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." Those that are in intensive care are very sick; more than half, 203 of 385, are on ventilators.

On Monday, a small group gathered in Tempe to honor the 15,000 Arizonans who have been killed by COVID-19. Just the next day, the state crossed 16,000 known deaths for COVID-19. Arizona remains sixth in the nation for the number of COVID-19 deaths reported in the last week compared to population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A total of 1.86 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Arizona. More than 1.24 million people have received at least one dose and more than 617,000 have received both needed doses. That means around 8.5 percent 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. Currently, 98.4 percent of vaccines allocated to the state have been used.

People aged 55 and older will now be prioritized for the vaccine at certain locations. The governor's office announced Monday that the state would now be using a "hybrid" model, in which eligibility is based on age but counties can still prioritize certain groups to receive the vaccine. The decision was made by the Arizona Vaccine and Antiviral Prioritization Advisory Committee, with a goal is to prioritize age demographics that are most at-risk of serious effects of COVID-19. The release notes that approximately 65 percent of those hospitalized due to COVID-19 are aged 55 or older.

The state is now telling counties that once 55 percent of a specific age group has been vaccinated, or if they feel like demand has tapered off, they can transition to the next-younger age group. Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ told the Arizona Republic on Monday the method was a faster way to reach older adults with health conditions that put them at higher risk, instead of waiting until essential workers had been vaccinated first — as was the previous plan.

The state will be adding a metric to its vaccine dashboard to show how many people in each age group are vaccinated per county. The dashboard also now has a tool that allows users to check their eligibility based on their age and profession.

Now that he's eligible by age, Governor Doug Ducey slipped in to get a vaccination at State Farm Stadium today.
The governor did not alert the media he was going to be there, but was captured by a camera crew that happened to be on site. Afterwards, his office released a promotional video. Ducey has avoided public appearances since December, instead focusing on one-on-one interviews with the press.

If you are 55 or older, you can sign up for the 50,000 March vaccination appointments the state is opening up at two of its sites as of noon today. You can sign up here. You can also sign up to get vaccinated at pharmacies and medical clinics that are receiving doses through a CDC program. More info is here.

Gila County, which has been expanding vaccine eligibility among the fastest of any counties, is now offering jabs to any county resident who wants them. Around 28 percent of the residents have received at least one shot.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been approved for use, adding a third vaccine to the arsenal and offering the hope of an accelerated time table for achieving herd immunity. Unlike the other two vaccines currently in use, it does not need to be frozen when shipped and only requires one dose to be effective. While it is not quite as effective at stopping infections as the other vaccines, it's said to make a significant difference in preventing severe infections and hospitalizations. Christ said Friday that the state expects to receive a shipment of 50,000 to 60,000 doses of the new vaccine shortly, but numbers may be more variable in coming weeks.

If you 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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Erasmus Baxter is a staff writer for Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Erasmus Baxter