WHO, partners roll out faster COVID tests for poorer nations

Medical staff hold a swab for rapid COVID-19 tests Sept. 28 at a high school in Rome.

SAN TAN VALLEY — After weeks of new reported COVID-19 cases in Pinal County staying relatively stagnant, the numbers are gradually starting to increase again.

Wednesday’s data update from the Arizona Department of Health Services included 323 new cases in Arizona, bringing the state’s total to 218,507. There were also 18 new reported deaths in the state, up to 5,650.

Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are also up, with the state reporting 540 patients Tuesday compared to just 468 the previous day. The number of ICU patients with COVID-19 rose by four to 119.

In Pinal County, there were 56 new cases reported on Tuesday for a total of 10,627. There was also one new death, for a total of 208.

The largest increase came in the San Tan Valley area, a hot spot in previous surges. The three ZIP codes that make up San Tan Valley reported 28 new cases on Tuesday, bringing its total to 2,826. Maricopa’s two ZIP codes combined for an 11-case increase for a total of 1,289, and Eloy went up 10 to 1,374. Also of note on a per-capita basis, Arizona City increased by five to 288.

While none of these increases come close to matching those that occurred during the surge in July, this does continue a trend for the worse when it comes to COVID-19 cases in Pinal County.

For example, in San Tan Valley’s 85142 ZIP code, cases rose by 71 this past week. The week before that, it went up 30, and the week before that only 20. In Maricopa’s 85138 ZIP code, cases have gone up 25 in the past week. The prior week saw only seven new cases.

Coconino and Pima counties are also getting bad news on the COVID-19 front.

New data Tuesday from the Department of Health Services show that more than 100 of every 100,000 residents in those two counties are testing positive for the virus.

But don’t look for restrictions on businesses to be reimposed.

Under the rules adopted by the agency, having even one of three factors in the substantial range precluded the opening of certain businesses including movie theaters and fitness centers. All three had to be at least in the moderate range.

But state Health Director Cara Christ will not apply the same rules in this case or order any businesses closed, saying that the overall situation in Arizona is better than it was in June and July, after Gov. Doug Ducey removed many restrictions on business operations.

The agency also said there are “strict mitigation strategies’’ designed to help prevent another spike, including masks at restaurants when people are not “actively eating or drinking,’’ limitations on occupancy at bars that operate as restaurants and gyms allowed to operate at only 25% capacity.

And the agency also cites what it says is broad access to testing, with fast turnaround results and enhanced contact tracing by the state and counties.

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Howard Fischer from Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.

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