Hours after Governor Doug Ducey said Arizona is “not the same as other states” in explaining his decision not to order Arizonans to shelter in place, Pima County officials announced that a third person in the state had died from COVID-19.
This morning, the Arizona Department of Health Services said two more people have died from COVID-19 in the state, bringing the total number of deaths so far to five.
“Arizona is not there yet. We’re not at the same stage as other states,” Ducey said at a Monday press conference with DHS director Dr. Cara Christ.
Yet it’s unclear what stage Arizona is at: The state’s lag in testing and minimal data collection makes it difficult for officials to gauge the full scope of the crisis.
Today, the DHS said 326 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the state, an increase of 92 cases since yesterday. This time last week, Arizona had 20 cases.
The two latest deaths are in Maricopa County (the third death in the county) and Navajo County, DHS officials said. The Maricopa County victim was a man in his 70s with underlying health conditions. The Navajo victim was a woman in her 50s.
Ducey’s refusal to take steps to get as many Arizonans as possible to stay home seemed to be in lock-step with the stance of Maricopa County’s top infectious disease specialist, Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine. She told the Phoenix City Council on Monday that she believed it was too early to shut down public places — even those Ducey already has, like schools, restaurants, bars, and gyms.
As of Tuesday, the United States had nearly 44,000 known cases of COVID-19. In the past two weeks alone, over 43,000 new cases have sprung up.
Sunenshine’s recommendation is completely at odds with what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, say ought to be done to limit the spread of the deadly disease.
“I think we should do everything we possibly can do,” Fauci said on Friday. “I mean, in all sectors, because obviously as I’ve said so many times, when you think you’re maybe overreacting, you probably are not acting as forcefully as you should. So as we’ve always said, we’ve got to try very much to stay ahead of the curve.”
“If you look at the trajectory of the curves of outbreaks and other areas, at least going to be several weeks,” Fauci said. “I cannot see that all of a sudden, next week or two weeks from now it’s going to be over. I don’t think there’s a chance of that. I think it’s going to be several weeks.”
“We now are still in the escalation phase. How high that gets and how long it’s going to take to turn around is going to depend on how well we do containment and mitigation.”
Chart of COVID-19 cases in Arizona and Maricopa County based on ADHS data
A majority of the newest cases are in Maricopa County, which has 199 cases to date — 60 new cases since Monday. On Friday, DHS belatedly revealed that Arizona had experienced its first coronavirus death. That victim was a Phoenix aviation employee who died last Tuesday — though state and county officials said nothing about his death until reporters asked about it on Friday.
On Sunday, DHS announced that a second person had died from COVID-19. The man was a Maricopa County resident in his 70s who had an underlying health condition. On Tuesday, the Maricopa County Department of Public Health said another person in the county has died, but officials have not yet to release any additional details.
Health officials expect the number of cases to continue rising exponentially as testing becomes more widely available. On Monday, Banner Health, the largest health system in Arizona, launched four drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites, three in Phoenix and one in Tucson.
The actual number of cases in the state certainly is much higher than what the DHS is currently reporting, since so many people who have tried to get tested have been refused. DHS Director Dr. Christ has said there are not enough tests for everyone who wants to get tested.
In Maricopa County, 35 people have been hospitalized and 13 are in the intensive care unit.
In terms of sheer numbers, confusion has arisen over the number of cases reported in Navajo and Apache counties by the DHS, the number of cases reported by the Navajo Nation (which spans Navajo, Apache, and Coconino counties), and Navajo County itself.
Today, DHS said 32 cases have been identified in Navajo County. Navajo County is reporting the same.
On Monday morning, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said 29 people in the Nation had tested positive for COVID-19, including people in Navajo County, Apache County, and McKinley County in New Mexico.
It’s unclear whether data from the DHS includes Navajo Nation cases in its count for Navajo, Apache, and Coconino counties.
On Sunday, Phoenix New Times asked DHS spokesperson Chris Minnick whether the 13 Navajo County cases identified in DHS cases included any from the Navajo Nation. Minnick replied, “Cases reported to Navajo County Public Health are reflected in our data. The Navajo Nation is reporting cases for the entire Nation, which spans three states.”
Asked whether or not any Navajo Nation cases were included in the data published by the DHS, Minnick said, “I believe there are, but I’m not sure the count. I’ll check in the morning.” By 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Minnick had not responded to multiple requests for clarification.
Many of the Navajo Nation’s cases originate from the community of Chilchinbeto, prompting the Navajo Health Command Operations Center to issue a Public Health Emergency Order requiring the closure of the community for quarantine and isolation (a shelter-in-place order) to limit the spread of the virus. On Friday night, the Navajo Nation expanded the stay-at-home order to apply to all residents of the Nation. The order requires residents to remain isolated at home and requires all nonessential businesses to close to prevent further spread of the virus.
The outbreak in Chilchinbeto seems to be linked to a gathering at Chilchinbeto Church on March 7, where one person in the congregation later tested positive for COVID-19, the Navajo Times reported. Since then, several people who attended or had family members who did have tested positive for the virus.
As far as other Arizona counties, besides the increase in Maricopa and Navajo, since Monday:
• Pima added 18 new cases (42 total). Pima County has yet to release any information about the new cases from today, but on Monday evening, officials said eight of Pima’s then-25 cases were hospitalized and two are in the ICU. Last night, PCHD announced a woman in her 50s with underlying health conditions died from COVID-19. She was the county’s 25th case. Officials said they received the positive lab report on Monday evening.
• Pinal added five new cases (22 total), but has yet to release any additional information on those cases.
• Coconino identified one new case (18 total). Coconino County has tested hundreds of people and has two drive-thru testing sites. At least nine of the Coconino cases originate from the Flagstaff area, but the county has not provided additional details.
• Yuma identified one new case (two total). The Yuma County Public Health Services District said the patient is isolated and recovering at home.
The DHS said it had tested 356 people for COVID-19 as of today. That means state labs have tested only four more people since Monday.
Of those tested as of today, 313 cases have already been ruled out. There are 22 cases are pending, and 41 of the samples tested by the Arizona State Public Health Laboratory have come back positive. (That adds up to more than 356, but the DHS has yet to explain the discrepancy.) An additional 285 samples tested by private labs have also come back positive. However, officials have yet to provide data on the number of tests carried out by commercial labs, so the scope of testing being done in Arizona remains unclear.
On Monday, Ducey issued an executive order requiring commercial labs to disclose more data about testing.
On March 11, there were 1,200 cases of the coronavirus across 41 states in the country.
As of Tuesday morning, there are nearly 44,000 known cases across all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and three U.S. territories. At least 537 Americans have died since becoming infected. The majority of the cases are in New York state (nearly 22,000 confirmed cases and at least 157 deaths).