Gov. Ducey announces $14M for universities' response to COVID-19, rapid testing

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey provided updates on COVID-19 testing with officials from the state's three main universities on Sept. 24, with additional information on funding to expand testing across the state.

The conference took place on the Phoenix Biomedical Campus with leaders from Arizona State, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University.

The governor was joined by all three university presidents to tout progress and also announce funding for what could turn into a major breakthrough in testing.

Overall, $14 million will go to Arizona's universities for additional testing, but $6 million of that will go specifically toward ASU to develop a high-tech, at-home test.

The test would allow a person to spit into a tube which would then automatically send a signal to your cell phone indicating whether you're positive or negative for COVID-19.

"The test is an advanced scientific tool shrunk down into a small, plastic device, a microfluidic device. You spit into the device, the device splits your saliva so it can actually get at the chemistry of the virus itself," said Dr. Michael Crow, president of ASU. "It takes the saliva, splits it so that it takes your DNA, splits that, moves the RNA, cooks that up in a small laboratory, and then from that chemistry that's revealed, you know whether or not you're positive."

ASU says they're working as fast as they can and hope to have the test developed in six months.

On the other hand, the state's health director said many counties could move back into "substantial" spread next week. These metrics previously meant some businesses had to be closed.

"As we're looking at the data, we are seeing there are counties that will likely go back into substantial spread starting next week. We're starting to work with those county health departments to see if there are targeted areas where we can work with those business owners," said Dr. Cara Christ. "We want to avoid closing down if we can, implement mitigation strategies. That would be preferable."

The governor was quick to say they're doing everything they can to prevent more closures.

"Arizona's open. Arizona's economy is open. Arizona's education institutions are open. Arizona's tourism industry is open. We expect them to remain open," said the governor.

State hospitals continue to get a break from the influx of coronavirus cases that nearly overwhelmed their ability to care for patients early in the summer, but new case counts are again edging up.

Virus counts released Sept. 24 by the state Department of Health Services show 566 new confirmed cases across the state, bringing the total since the pandemic hit early this year to 215,852. The state announced 34 new deaths, bringing that total to 5,559.

Coronavirus in Arizona: Latest case numbers

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Arizona has risen over the past two weeks from 525 new confirmed cases per day on Sept. 9 to 768 new confirmed cases per day on Sept. 23, according to data collected by The COVID Tracking Project. That upward tick may in part be due to the state health department now including “probable” results from less-accurate antigen testing.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Hospital use is way down from the mid-July peak that saw more than 3,500 people being treated. The state reported just 565 people hospitalized for the virus as of Wednesday, with just 122 in intensive care and only 64 needing ventilators to help them breathe.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

FULL COVERAGE: fox10phoenix.com/coronavirus

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