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Pima County announces 10 pm COVID-19 curfew

'Voluntary' restriction runs until 5 am daily; will remain until New Year

Citing "substantial community spread of COVID-19," on Monday Pima County officials announced a nightly curfew lasting until Dec. 31, telling residents to stay home from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily. 

The "voluntary curfew" comes after the Pima County Health Department reported "the highest single day total of new COVID-19 infections since the beginning of the pandemic." On Monday, PCHD noted that there were 878 cases in the county, and for the week of Nov. 16, there were 2,575 cases in the county.

Update: Romero pushes mandatory COVID-19 curfew in Tucson

Residents who refuse to wear face coverings and continue to take part in social gatherings are making "an already critical situation" even worse, county officials said.

County officials have not explained how they will enforce the measure, which they described as "voluntary." The curfew exempts homeless people, officials said, and does not apply to people who are working overnight, or must leave home for certain "essential activities."

Statewide there have been at least 302,324 COVID-19 cases, including 2,659 new infections Monday, according to the daily report from the Arizona Department of Public Health Services.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has repeatedly signaled he doesn't intend to impose any additional restrictions as the pandemic again spikes in the state. He has dodged questions about what level of new infections and deaths would prompt him to take measures such as returning to the modest "stay at home" order he announced earlier this year when the COVID-19 outbreak here was at lower levels.

Ducey's executive orders about the pandemic essentially bar the county from issuing a curfew order that could be enforced with criminal penalties.

The Pima curfew declaration comes just days after the U.S. hit 12.2 million known COVID-19 cases, including 150,975 cases on Monday alone, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Nearly 250,000 Americans have died from the novel coronavirus since March, and in recent weeks, that trend has accelerated as COVID-19 spikes in what is being called a "third wave" of cases. 

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And, as the wave of cases continues, the number of hospital beds available for COVID-19 patients has dropped to the lowest level since July when just 10 percent of the Intensive Care Unit beds were unoccupied. 

On Sunday, out of the 1,727 ICU beds in the state, nearly 27 percent were in use by patients with COVID-19, and just 10 percent of the beds are unoccupied, according to ADHS

While significant, this pales in comparison to July 13, when the number of COVID-19 patients in Arizona's ICUs peaked at 57 percent, or 970. 

The curfew applies to all Pima County residents, "except those individuals who have no fixed address," officials said. Under the curfew's guidelines, residents may leave home for work or "other essential activities." This includes travel to purchase food, obtain medical care, medicine or supplies. Residents can also leave their home to care for family members, or respond to "urgent or emergency situations." 

"It is necessary to take this additional step due to the accelerating nature of the pandemic in our community," Pima County Health Director Theresa Cullen said. "While we appreciate the efforts of the majority of residents to slow the spread of the virus, a segment of the population continues to participate in social gatherings and resist the use of masks which exacerbates an already critical situation."

Matt Heinz, a hospital physician who was just elected to the Pima County Board of Supervisors, said the curfew doesn't go far enough.

"We need an enforced curfew right now in Pima County or else we won't have a single available ICU or step-down bed by the second week of December. Period. That’s what the data shows," said Heinz, who will take office on January 1. "And I believe based on what I’m seeing on the ground that the actual time will be much sooner — end of month probably."

"We also need to close bars, and restaurants must be limited to carry out and outdoor dining only," Heinz told TucsonSentinel.com on Monday night, pointing to a return to the measures that were in place in the spring.

On Friday, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero was joined by the mayors of Phoenix, Flagstaff and Tolleson, Ariz., in pushing for a statewide mask mandate. On Twitter, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego asked Gov. Ducey to implement such a mandate. 

"We are still fighting #COVID19 & cannot become complacent. Masks protect those who wear them and those around them - they will save lives," Gallego wrote, along with support from Romero, as well as Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans, and Tolleson Mayor Anna Tovar.

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Arizona in CV-19 'red zone'

Last week, a secret White House report sent to U.S. governors included Arizona in the "red zone" for the coronavirus outbreak for the second straight week.

All but three states were in the red zone for new coronavirus cases, according to those task force reports.

“There is now aggressive, unrelenting, expanding broad community spread across the country, reaching most counties, without evidence of improvement but rather, further deterioration,” the task force told governors in its Nov. 15 reports. “Current mitigation efforts are inadequate and must be increased to flatten the curve to sustain the health system for both COVID and non-COVID emergencies.”

Arizona remained in the "red zone" for the second straight week, as coronavirus infections skyrocket.

A report has yet to be made known to the public this week.

County officials said the previous week that the "alarming rate" of new coronavirus cases here looks "like the beginning of the huge spike that we saw over the summer," and local officials are cautioning people to be safer as the holidays approach.

The federal task force continued its push for more antigen testing and also urged states to beef up their warnings to the public prior to Thanksgiving.

"This is the highest one week total since the large spike in cases over the summer," Pima County health authorities said of the beginning of the month. "The first week of November saw the same level of cases during the beginning weeks of June 2020."

The reports to governors and senior state health officials are not made public. The Center for Public Integrity is collecting and publishing them.

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