This Week in COVID: Legislature Shuts Down, Teen Orphaned

Gage Skidmore
Arizona's legislature shut down this week after a Rudy Giuliani exposure.
It's Tuesday, December 8. More than 365,840 Arizonans have contracted COVID-19 and more than 6,950 have died as a result. Here's what happened in the last week:

More than 5,700 people in Arizona are being infected with COVID-19 on average each day. That's an increase of 1,251 more each day than at this same time last week, and 1,600 more than at the worse point of the summer's outbreak.

Monday was the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. The attack killed 2,403 Americans, according to government statistics. The United States is currently averaging 2,222 deaths from COVID-19 each day.

There is no sign that the outbreak in Arizona is slowing or will peak soon, said Joshua LaBaer, the executive director of Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute.  "Probably most concerning there is when we hit our peak in the summer, the curve we were looking at was concave down, meaning things were starting to slow down," he told reporters last Wednesday. "...Right now, the growth curve looks concave up, that means it is continuing to accelerate in it’s current state.”

Only 8 percent of ICU beds statewide are available. Of all the beds in the state, 42 percent are occupied by COVID-19 patients, up from 34 percent a week ago. Sam Durrani, the chair of HonorHealth's Medical Staff Covid-19 Task Force, said on Twitter Monday that the nonprofit's hospitals were full and still bracing for more patients.

Governor Doug Ducey announced that Arizona is spending $60 million dollars to bring 500 nurses to the state by the end of month, with more arriving in January. At the Wednesday press conference, he also announced $1 million to assist restaurants with outdoor seating, an executive order allowing restaurant seating on sidewalks and right-of-ways, and an executive order requiring notice of 50-person-plus gatherings approved by local jurisdictions. Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) head Cara Christ also announced that businesses that receive a second substantiated complaint for not following COVID-19 protocols will face closure.

Ducey did not implement any of the more stringent mitigation measures some public health experts have called for. Members of the COVID-19 modeling teams at the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University have sent letters to ADHS calling for a statewide mask mandate and three-week lockdown accompanied by government assistance. Last Tuesday, eight chief medical officers from Arizona hospital providers wrote a letter to Christ today asking for a ban on indoor dining and statewide curfew, the Arizona Republic reported.

The City of Tucson has imposed a 10 p.m. curfew through December 23 in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. The curfew does not require businesses to shut down, but makes it a civil infraction to be outside one's home if not involved in an extensive list of "essential activities." Meanwhile, the Navajo Nation has extended its lockdown for another three weeks.

The Arizona Legislature has shut down this week after being exposed to Rudy Giuliani. This is the second time a member of President Donald Trump's disease-ridden inner circle has tested positive for COVID-19 after meeting with members of the Arizona Legislature. Giuliani was in Arizona last week in support of Trump's efforts to overturn the results of the presidential election and held a lengthy "hearing" with 14 lawmakers present, Arizona Capitol Times reported. He also met privately with Republican state House and Senate leaders. Following their exposure, a number of legislators attended an orientation during which they did not wear masks. On Sunday, the Senate and House said they would shut for a week out of an "abundance of caution."

Two state representatives lost family members to COVID-19. Representative Raquel Terán's father-in-law, Rodolfo Barron died from complications of COVID-19 last Sunday. He had voted for the first time in this year's election. Representative Arlando Teller's mother passed this Sunday, he said on Twitter. Both representatives have had COVID-19. Two Republican state legislators revealed that they had previously contracted the disease. Senator Sonny Borrelli tweeted on Monday that he had survived COVID-19. Representative Anthony Kern told a reporter that he had contracted the disease in May when his wife did. While his wife was officially diagnosed, he was not, he said.

A Chandler high schooler has been orphaned after both her parents died of COVID-19 last week. Tony and Lisa Vasquez died from COVID-19 complications within hours of each other, leaving behind their 17-year-old daughter, the Arizona Republic reported. Both parents were involved in the Chandler High School swim team. The team's coach also died from COVID-19 over the summer.

The Paradise Valley Unified School District superintendent has resigned after harassment over the district's decision to return to virtual learning in mid-November. At a Monday special meeting, the district's governing board spent an hour in a closed session before unanimously accepting Jesse Welsh's resignation without comment. The board appointed former superintendent James Lee to fill the position. A source told Phoenix TV station ABC15 (KNXV-TV) that Welsh and his family had been targeted with harassment at home and at his children's school.

Students returning to ASU in the spring will have to submit a negative COVID-19 test. When students returned to campus in the fall there was a large spike in cases. ASU officials blame this on the wide window for submitting a negative test result, the student newspaper The State Press reported. University president Michael Crow told the paper that the number of people infected this semester was "not good" but anticipated.

Starting spring semester, the University of Arizona will require all on-campus students to get tested for COVID-19, it said in a news update.
The university is also implementing a new ,saliva-based COVID-19 test based on gargling, in addition to its current testing.

The state and county are preparing for distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. ADHS head Christ said last week that the first vaccine shipments will be arriving in Arizona this month. Front-line workers and high-risk people will be prioritized for distribution. Maricopa County is establishing five regional distribution to receive the vaccination. Ducey said he has signed an executive to work with insurance companies to ensure that cost will not be a barrier to receiving the vaccine. LaBaer at ASU said it is likely that the vaccine will not be widespread until the coming fall.