Vaccination Site

A Queen Creek firefighter monitors traffic at a drive-through COVID-19 vaccination site in Chandler on Dec. 31, 2020. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona, a national COVID-19 hot spot, on Saturday passed the grim milestones of 10,000 deaths and 600,000 known cases since the pandemic began.

The Department of Health Services reported 11,094 additional cases and 98 deaths, increasing the pandemic totals to 607,345 cases and 10,036 deaths.

Pinal County reported 782 new cases and three additional deaths. That brings the county totals to 32,960 positive cases and 417 deaths.

Arizona was tied with Rhode Island for the worst COVID-19 diagnosis rate in the country, with 1 person in every 109 diagnosed with the disease between Jan. 1 and Friday. The diagnosis rate is a state’s population divided by the number of new cases over the past week.

Saturday was the second straight day that Arizona reported more than 11,000 additional cases.

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.

The state’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases increased from about 6,323 on Dec. 25 to around 9,426 on Friday as the rolling average of daily deaths rose from 84.3 to 131.9, according to data from Johns Hopkins University and The COVID Tracking Project.

With the current surge straining the state's health care system, there were 4,920 COVID-19 patients occupying inpatient beds as of Friday.

Dr. Cara Christ, the state's top health official, on Friday said she expected another large spike tied to New Year's gatherings and travel, similar to those that followed other holidays.

“Three to five days after Christmas and Christmas Eve were our highest days yet,” Christ, head of the Department of Health Services, said during a virtual briefing. “So, we know that people got together and that they let their guard down.”

Leaders of Arizona’s biggest hospital systems and others have repeatedly called on Gov. Doug Ducey and Christ to implement tighter restrictions to stop the virus’ spread. They have urged a statewide mask mandate, a temporary ban on indoor dining and closing bars and gyms.

The Republican governor has rejected those calls and said local officials should enforce existing restrictions.

Areas with more than 90% of the state's population already have mask mandates in place and states can only do so much, Christ said.

“As you’re looking at what’s going on in other states, there’s not a best practices model,” she said. “You’ve got Florida, who has no mitigation strategies, that is in the same boat. You’ve got California, who has stricter mitigation strategies, that is in the same boat.”

Arizona is entering the next phase of the state’s vaccination plan.

Maricopa and Pima counties, the two most populous, are about to start vaccinating teachers, first responders and those age 75 and older.

Several other counties already have expanded vaccine eligibility and begun registering those groups. Health care workers and people who live or work at long-term care facilities were in the first phase of the vaccine rollout, which began last month.

In other developments:

— The organization that governs Arizona high school sports announced Friday that its leadership approved a medical advisory panel’s recommendation to cancel the winter sports season because of the surge and a large number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations.

“We do not see the situation improving very quickly,” said Toni Corona, president of the executive board of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

— A large suburban school district in metro Phoenix announced Friday that six high schools and three elementary schools will be closed Monday to both in-person and remote instruction.

Hundreds of Peoria Unified School District teachers planned to be absent Monday because of concerns about the district offering in-person instruction despite the coronavirus surge, local media outlets reported.

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