All Arizona counties seeing 'substantial' virus spread

All Arizona counties are showing substantial spread of the coronavirus, according to an update posted Thursday by the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Eight of the 15 counties were classified last week as substantial, indicating the most severe risk for contracting the disease.

The metrics were created to guide decisions about whether it’s safe to open schools and businesses, but Gov. Doug Ducey’s administration has declined to require that they be followed. The metrics are a lagging indicator of true spread of the virus because they’re tied to data collected over several weeks.

Arizona on Dec. 24 reported over 100 additional coronavirus deaths for the sixth time in nine days as state public health officials urged caution to prevent the spread of the virus during the holidays.

The state Department of Health Services reported 7,046 additional known COVID-19 cases and 115 deaths, increasing the state’s totals to 480,319 cases and 8,294 deaths.

Arizona had the third-worst COVID-19 diagnosis rate among U.S. states over the past week, behind Tennessee and California. The diagnosis rate is calculated by dividing the total state population by the number of new cases.

According to the state’s coronavirus dashboard, Arizona had a record 4,221 people hospitalized for COVID-19 on Dec. 23, the latest in series of pandemic-highs set this month.

Coronavirus patients on Wednesday were using a record high of 50% of all hospital beds, while the 965 COVID-19 patients in intensive care unit beds were below the state’s record of 972 set Tuesday.

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Only 8% of all hospital inpatient beds were available and not in use, including 7% of ICU beds, according to the dashboard.

Department officials urged caution during the holidays. "If you gather with people from outside your household, take the same precautions you’d follow in public: #MaskUpAZ, distance, wash/sanitize hands," the department said on Twitter.

People attending religious services should wear masks and distance, particularly if there’s singing, while not hugging, shaking hands or drinking from communal cups, said Dr. Cara Christ, the department’s director.

In another development, Prescott announced Wednesday it would deny permission for public events on city property effective immediately for 90 days because of the current surge of COVID-19 cases and its crowding of area hospitals, The Daily Courier reported.

MAP: Arizona Coronavirus cases by zip code

"This is the right decision at this time," Mayor Gregg Mengarelli said in a statement. "Large public events and gatherings require additional police and fire protection. We do not believe this is the best allocation of these resources during this pandemic."

Organizers of the annual New Year’s Eve Whiskey Row Boot Drop held in downtown Prescott on Wednesday announced the cancelation of the Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 event.

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In order to protect yourself from a possible infection, the CDC recommends: 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • Monitor your health daily

Symptoms for coronavirus COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. These, of course, are similar to the common cold and flu. 

Expect a common cold to start out with a sore or scratchy throat, cough, runny and/or stuffy nose. Flu symptoms are more intense and usually come on suddenly, and can include a high fever. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear more slowly. They usually include fever, a dry cough and noticeable shortness of breath, according to the World Health Organization. A minority of cases develop pneumonia, and the disease is especially worrisome for the elderly and those with other medical problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or heart conditions.

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To protect yourself, wash your hands well and often, keep them away from your face, and avoid crowds and standing close to people.

And if you do find yourself showing any of these flu or coronavirus symptoms - don't go straight to your doctor's office. That just risks making more people sick, officials urge. Call ahead, and ask if you need to be seen and where.

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Continuing coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic:

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As COVID-19 vaccines begin to arrive, Navajo Nation President urges residents to not let their guard down

The Native American nation, which occupies a portion of Arizona and New Mexico, has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Arizona leaders ask for limited holiday gatherings as COVID-19 cases surge

With the upcoming holidays, Arizona officials are asking for residents to limit large gatherings as COVID-19 cases surge in the state.