PHOENIX – The spread of COVID-19 in Arizona communities rose from “moderate” to “widespread” on Thursday, meaning there were confirmed cases in 13 of the state’s 15 counties, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Gila and Greenlee were the two counties with no confirmed cases. Maricopa County leads the state with 299 confirmed cases.
COVID-19 cases are expected to peak by the end of April, with peak hospitalization occurring in May, state health officials said Wednesday.
“Arizona is still in the opening stages of its COVID-19 outbreak, and the number of cases within the state will increase significantly,” Dr. Cara Christ, director of ADHS, said in a briefing.
Arizona could be short 13,000 hospital beds and 1,500 intensive-care beds in treating coronavirus patients, Christ said. State hospitals are expected to activate emergency plans to free up hospital beds for COVID-19 patients, as Gov. Doug Ducey outlined in an executive order Thursday in an effort to “optimize staffing levels and maximize critical resources.”
As of Thursday, March 26, Arizona health officials reported 508 cases of COVID-19 in Arizona, and eight deaths. The state public health lab has tested 403 people for the illness and ruled out 347 of them. Testing also is being conducted at private labs, the ADHS said.
$5.3 million for meals for Arizona seniors
Gov. Doug Ducey announced Wednesday that the federal Department of Health and Human Services granted Arizona more than $5.3 million to provide meals for older adults. The money will go toward meal delivery programs and senior center programs, according to a news release. The senior meal program is covered in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, a relief package signed by President Donald Trump on March 18.
Telemedicine coverage to expand in Arizona
Ducey issued an executive order Wednesday that requires health insurance providers to expand their telemedicine coverage to allow for at-home appointments. Access to health care at this time is crucial, Ducey stated in a news release, and this action will free up needed empty beds at hospitals throughout Arizona. The order prevents insurance companies from charging more for telemedicine appointments versus an in-person visit.
Historic economic stimulus package passed
The U.S. Senate approved a $2 trillion economic stimulus package late Wednesday to provide relief to small businesses and direct payments to taxpayers. The bill “is just the latest of many that will be needed to help (protect) the country from the health and economic costs of COVID-19,” according to a policy expert who spoke with Cronkite News.
More resources going to hospitals
Ducey signed legislation Wednesday to provide more resources to hospitals by increasing the state Medicaid provider rates. Health care professionals are “stepping up to address COVID-19 and help others,” and the state is grateful for their efforts, Ducey’s press release said, noting the legislation has no effect on the state’s general fund.
Electric utility relief package
Ducey on Thursday announced an agreement with nine of the state’s electric utilities to provide reliable access to electricity to hospitals, homes, and businesses – including Arizona residents facing financial difficulties. Arizona Public Service, Salt River Project and Tucson Electric Power are among the nine electric utilities and cooperatives that agreed to not shut off power to customers in their home and not issue penalties, late fees or interest at this time, according to the governor’s press release.
How to help
If you’re looking for a way to help out your community, look no further than your own neighborhood. Arizonans have been helping those affected by COVID-19 with random acts of kindness. Some free little libraries, a popular trend in local neighborhoods where residents can take a book or donate one, have turned into free pantries, filled with canned goods and toilet paper for those in need.
From the generosity of the sweet people of Laveen for those who might be in need. Its what ive been saying for a very long time…Laveen is special. We take care of our own.
Cronkite News reporter Caroline Yu contributed to this report.