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Ducey ends Arizona's COVID-19 state of emergency, 2 years after pandemic began

Arizona’s COVID-19 state of emergency is over, more than two years after Gov. Doug Ducey first declared the public health measure to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic. New COVID cases statewide and in Pima County have been dropping since last month.

Ducey ended the declaration, which gave him additional powers to issue executive orders, based on Arizona Department of Health Services data that reached thresholds showing COVID is no longer widespread here.

“Thanks to the hard work of many — health care workers, businesses, public and private sector employees — COVID-19 is no longer an emergency in Arizona,” Ducey said in a public statement. “This virus isn’t completely gone, but because of the vaccine and other life-saving measures, today we are better positioned to manage and mitigate it.”

AZDHS data was lagging over the past several weeks as the agency shifted its reporting of COVID-19 figures to a weekly basis. The most up-to-date numbers are 10,143 additional statewide COVID cases reported since last week and 385 deaths.

The more than 10,000 cases  — reported on Wednesday — is a sudden increase. A week earlier, the agency reported only 2,054 cases.

An ADHS spokesman said that the bump in the state’s weekly dashboard was caused by a “reporting partner” who added cases and diagnostic tests dating back to October, helping to reconcile what he called an “electronic reporting issue.”

“The best way to monitor trends is looking at the graph for cases by week,” said Steve Elliot, a spokesman for AZDHS. “That shows just over 2,000 cases added for the past week, continuing a downward trend.”

State officials did not provide details about how many of the cases were older, and how many dated from this past week.

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For Pima County, whose figures are also reported by AZDHS, there have been 669 additional COVID cases and 22 deaths from the virus added to the totals since last week.

Mask mandates have ended and in-person work and meetings are returning for public institutions here, including for the Pima County Board of Supervisors, Tucson City Council, TUSD Governing Board and their classrooms, and the University of Arizona and Pima Community College.

The Centers for Disease Control lowered their rating of community COVID transmission in Pima County from “high” to “medium” on March 3. The previous “high” status meant that Pima County had more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period, and every county in Arizona had held that rate from late last summer to earlier this year.

Pima County is now at a “low” transmission level with a case rate of 47 new cases per 100,000 people over the last week. Several times, the county had a rate that was more than three time the benchmark for “high.”

The entire county population is 68 percent vaccinated. Only 2 percent of staffed inpatient beds in county hospitals are being used by COVID patients, and the number of total ICU beds in use is dropping steadily as dozens have freed up over the past month.

Statewide, COVID hospitalizations make up 5 percent of inpatient beds and 7 percent of ICU beds, down from 57 percent and 63 percent, respectively, in January. More than 70 percent of Arizonans have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and more than 60 percent of all Arizonans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Ducey also lauded Arizona as a leader in vaccine distribution. He mentioned in his statement that President Joe Biden called the 24/7 drive-thru vaccination site at State Farm Stadium a “national model.”

The COVID-19 Declaration of Emergency issued on March 11, 2020, directed AZDHS to handle the state’s response to the sudden public health crisis. It also gave AZDHS say over when conditions were right for ending the public health declaration.

During the week of March 13-19, the number of COVID patients in Arizona hospitals fell below a baseline of 2 percent of total patients, which the state set as the outbreak’s threshold. COVID-19 cases then fell to 2,054 during the week of March 20-26, down 99 percent from 151,312 cases during the week of Jan. 9-15.

Dr. Richard Carmona, a former U.S. surgeon general and a special COVID advisor to Ducey, added to the governor's statement though with a much more cautiously optimistic tone.

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“COVID-19 is by no means completely through with us, however, and it’s reasonable to expect we will see increases in cases at times as the virus mutates to survive,” Carmona said. “We now have the experience and tools in place to address what may be to come while public health continues doing what we do best: infectious disease surveillance, prevention, and control.”

Ducey encouraged Arizonans to get vaccinated and boosted. He also recommended other mitigation steps based on local transmission and individual risk, including staying home when sick. Vaccines and over-the-counter tests will continue to be widely available.

President Biden received a second booster shot on Wednesday after the CDC approved it for people over 50. Pima County now offers the second booster and still has testing and vaccine sites open and listed online.

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member.

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Gov. Doug Ducey

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