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Ducey: 'Don't go to crowded bar' for St. Patrick's Day; COVID-19 should limit groups to 10

The Arizona Department of Health Services is suggesting limiting public gatherings of more than 10 people, in line with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the number of positive cases of coronavirus in Arizona continues to rise.

The announcement comes after additional cases of the virus were confirmed in Maricopa County Monday bringing Arizona's total up to 18 confirmed cases as of Monday afternoon.

The virus, which causes the illness COVID-19, has been declared a worldwide pandemic by the World Health Organization.

"Tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day. If you're thinking of going out to a crowded bar to celebrate, don't," Gov. Doug Ducey said during an update about the state's efforts to contain and combat the coronavirus.

"There is a heightened risk of COVID-19 now that we have community spread," ADHS Director Dr. Cara Christ said. "Everyone should avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people."

The recommendation includes bars and restaurants, and Christ recommended using drive-through food options when possible.

The recommendation by ADHS goes further than a recommendation made an hour earlier by the Maricopa Department of Public Health, which only recommended limiting gatherings to 10 people for those over the age of 50.

Maricopa County''s recommendation does not include "daily operation" businesses and only "gatherings," according to Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, who took questions from reporters via teleconference.

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Despite suggesting limiting gatherings, Arizona's presidential preference election will go ahead as scheduled on Tuesday.

"We understand the apprehension voters have right now," Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said. "We have no guarantee there will be a safer time to hold this election."

Hobbs said her office has been working with counties and state health officials to ensure that hygienic practices are being implemented. They are also adding curbside drop-off of early ballots, opening emergency voting a day early and adding drive-up voting in some places.

"Our democracy has risen to challenges in the past, and it must continue to do so," Hobbs said. "Our goal is to get people into polling places and to get them out."

On March 13, an attempt by Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes to address coronavirus fears by mailing early ballots to all registered Democrats who didn't already request one for the March 17 presidential preference election was blocked by a judge.

ADHS also announced Monday that it is partnering with Banner Health to open up collection sites for coronavirus tests, which will begin to open later this week.

Banner Chief Medical Officer Marjorie Bessel said that anyone who is symptomatic and is going to get tested should call their health care provider ahead of time to find out what the proper protocol is.

Sunenshine said the county health agency is also recommending that drive-through testing be implemented in Maricopa County.

The drive-through testing would only be for people who are experiencing symptoms, and they would have to sign a consent form saying they agree to self-isolate until their symptoms resolve. The goal is for there to be no co-pays for the drive-through testing, Sunenshine said.

Sunenshine said the department is looking at a litany of options to help alleviate the stress that is likely to come as more confirmed cases begin to appear. One of the solutions may be opening hospitals that are currently closed, she said.

The coronavirus has also already begun to alter how health care workers do their jobs.

Sunenshine said that they are no longer quarantining health care workers who have been exposed, as they are assuming that most have been exposed at some point to the coronavirus.

Now, all healthcare workers are required to monitor their symptoms and do temperature checks twice a day, Sunenshine said.

For more information on COVID-19 in Arizona, visit the ADHS website. The state has a hotline for providers and those who may be concerned they've become symptomatic: 1-844-542-8201

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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