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Dr. Cara Christ

State Health Director Cara Christ provides an update Tuesday on testing for COVID-19. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

PHOENIX — State Health Director Cara Christ announced Tuesday that, beginning next week, she will start providing more detailed information about where there are new cases. Up until this point, only the county of a patient was reported.

But Christ said this decision had nothing to do with the lawsuit filed by Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, and Pinal County mayors demanding access to that information under the state's Public Records Law.

Separately, Christ, who repeatedly referenced "modeling'' done by her agency to determine the impact of the virus and the number of hospital beds needed, deflected multiple questions asking her to share what she knows with the public about how many Arizonans are expected to get ill and how many are expected to die.

"The information that we have is really scratch paper,'' she said.

"We're working with the universities to develop actual modeling,'' Christ continued. "But it changes ever single day.''

Initially, she said, the estimates was that 1 to 2 percent of Arizonans -- 74,000 to 148,000 using the latest population projections -- would become infected, with 6 percent of that group expected to need hospitalization.

"That put us between 4,800 and 8,400 individuals,'' Christ said.

And she turned aside a request to come up with estimates to help Arizonans understand the scope of the problem.

"We are trying to keep the deaths down,'' Christ said. "So I am not going to estimate a guess on how many people could eventually die.''

Gov. Doug Ducey gave a similar response when asked about a worst-case scenario.

"I know that you all want a prediction,'' he told reporters.

"What we're working on every day is to reduce the number of Arizonans that contract COVID-19,'' Ducey said. "And the fewer people that contract it, the fewer deaths that we'll be experiencing.''

Separately, Tom Betlach, the acting director of the Department of Economic Security, said anyone who managed to apply for unemployment benefits for the week ending March 28 should get their first check sometime this week.

For the moment, those checks are limited to no more than $240, the maximum allowed under Arizona law. But Betlach said checks going out this coming week will also include the additional $600 which the federal government is going to fund.

Betlach acknowledged that many people are finding it difficult to even seek benefits, what with nearly 130,000 individuals filing first-time claims last week in a system built to handle the typical average of only 3,000 a week.

"We recognize it is still challenging for individuals to get through,'' he said. "We have seen the demand just surge to, at certain points in time, 70 calls per second coming into the state lines.''

Betlach said the staff has been expanded from 20 to 150, with more hiring to come and an effort to work with private groups to process the applications.

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