Arizona could get COVID-19 vaccine this month The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Arizona could get COVID-19 vaccine this month

December 8th, 2020 Mesa Tribune Staff
Arizona could get COVID-19 vaccine this month
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By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

Arizona is expected to receive “hundreds of thousands” of doses of vaccine for COVID-19 by the end of the month, state health chief Cara Christ said last week, with priority for health-care workers, vulnerable populations, residents of long-term care facilities and teachers.

The Dec. 2 announcement came even as she disclosed that one person out of every seven who got tested for the virus last week showed they were infected. And her agency reported a new one-day record for cases.

That includes Mesa, where two of the three metrics used to measure virus spread rose into the substantial category for the week of Nov. 22 – the latest available, posted by the county health department on Dec. 3.

Cases per 100,000 people rose from 298 the previous week to 420 while the percentage of positive test results remained at about 13 percent. The third metric, the percentage of hospital visits with COVID-like symptoms, remained at the moderate spread level with 6 percent.

The metrics for Mesa Public Schools district essentially mirrored those of the city, the data showed, though campuses remained opened.

But the district last week announced they will be closed the first two weeks of January, forcing all students to take virtual classes until Jan. 19. For the rest of this semester, MPS will continue closing schools on a campus-by-campus or even classroom-by-classroom basis.

The district’s own dashboard, updated Dec. 3, showed a total of 229 cases among the MPS’ 67,433 students and staff and that total involved 123 infected students and 106 sickened adults.

Gov. Doug Ducey at the press conference refused to put any new mitigation measures or restrictions in place to get the state past the point where a majority of Arizonans can actually be inoculated.

He specifically rejected a proposal by the chief medical officers of several Arizona hospitals to put in place a curfew, close restaurants to indoor dining and cancel group athletic activities. Instead, Ducey said he is relying on the idea that Arizona will have sufficient hospital beds to treat those who get ill in the interim.

That assumes that hospitals can find the qualified medical personnel to staff these beds.

Earlier Wednesday, Marjorie Bessel, chief clinical officer for Banner Health, said the problem now is that Arizona is no longer the only state with a surge. That makes it difficult to recruit help from elsewhere.

And while Banner is in the process of filling 1,500 positions, she said efforts are still underway to hire 900 more.

Ducey agreed to provide an additional $60 million to Arizona hospitals to help them find the staff they. That is on top of a $25 million infusion less than a month ago.

But Bessel said the picture in Arizona is “grim,’’ predicting that Banner hospitals will hit 125 percent of bed capacity this month and even exceed that, at least briefly, in January.

The most recent data from the Arizona Department of Health Services already has ICU bed use at 90 percent of capacity.

Hitting 125 percent is not necessarily a problem as hospitals are required to have made plans for that surge, including converting other non-ICU beds and other facilities for intensive-care use. But the Institute for Health Metrics Evaluation predicts that the demand for ICU beds will hit 300 percent of capacity by the middle of January unless there are steps taken to curb the spread of the virus.

It was for that reason that Bessel and medical officers from Mayo Clinic and Dignity Health specifically asked Christ this week to impose the additional restrictions. In fact, Bessel specifically praised Tucson Mayor Regina Romero and the city council for voting Tuesday night to impose as 10 p.m. curfew that will run for three weeks.

“A curfew is mitigation that absolutely can work,’’ Bessel said. “It can work and it will work if we deploy it.’’

Ducey conceded that the vaccines, which will only start to be available later this month only for those in the highest priority classes, won’t make any immediate dent in the increasing trend in cases.

“We want to do things that will allow businesses to operate safely,’’ Ducey continued, crushing aside questions about the rapid virus spread even as Christ acknowledged that 15 percent of the tests for the virus conducted last week are coming back positive.

“I don’t think the right answer is to throw hundreds of thousands of Arizonans out of work before the holidays to slow this spread because I don’t think it would slow the spread,’’ he said.

And the governor said there are other complications of restrictions, “like suicide attempts, like depression, like emotional and social disconnection, like child abuse and like domestic violence.’’

The lone new regulation of sorts that Ducey did impose Wednesday is not actually anything the state would enforce.

His current executive orders prohibit gatherings of more than 50 unless local governments approve. Now, the governor said, these governments will have to have a written agreement with event organizers that they will require and enforce certain safety measures, like distancing and the use of masks.

For vaccines, Ducey said first priority will go to health care workers, residents of long-term care facilities and other “vulnerable’’ populations.

The governor is specifically including teachers in that first group.

That dovetails with his often-repeated argument that he wants more in-classroom teaching and less online education. The premise is that once teachers have immunity, they will be more willing to return to work.

And while the date for vaccines for all Arizonans has yet to be determined, Ducey issued an executive order spelling out that all residents will be able to get inoculated “without financial barriers.’’

Ducey also set aside $1 million in grants to help restaurants and other dining facilities expand their outdoor dining operations.

But not everything being done for restaurants is financial.

Ducey is suspending a provision in law that says restaurants can serve alcoholic beverages only to patrons dining in-house or at an outdoor patio directly connected to the business.

That has proven to be a barrier for restaurants that have received local permission to operate in parking lots and even on cordoned-off areas of the street because there is a sidewalk in between.

The governor said that prohibition makes no sense when the state, with its good weather, should be encouraging more dining outdoors.

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