COVID-19 in Arizona: Expert paints mixed picture of virus situation in state

An Arizona State University scientist working on the COVID-19 saliva test at the school’s Biodesign Institute. The state partnered with ASU to begin offering the test to the public this week. (File photo courtesy of the Arizona State University Biodesign Institute)

PHOENIX – The head of Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute painted a glum picture Wednesday of current COVID-19 trends in the state, but he also suggested that the trend could be slowly improving.

Joshua LaBaer, executive director of the Biodesign Institute, noted that virus cases are soaring across the country, and that Arizona is one of the states leading the surge. Some hospitals have temporarily run out of beds in their intensive care units, and death rates are going up, he said during a virtual press briefing Wednesday.

“If you look at each of the different counties here, you’ll see that . . . most of them are trending upwards,” said LaBaer as he showed off a dashboard designed by ASU’s Clinical Testing Laboratory.

The briefing came as the number of cases in the state topped 130,000 and the number of deaths topped 2,400 for the first time.

But LaBaer also said that the curve of new cases appears to be flattening in Arizona. And he said that the first public tests run by the institute and the Arizona Department of Health Services using the institute’s new saliva-based COVID-19 tests appeared to go well.

The state announced a partnership last week with the institute to begin operating public testing sites using the saliva test, which was developed by researchers at ASU. The easy-to-administer test was first offered to the public Saturday morning at Ak-Chin Pavilion and again Tuesday.

“At each of the two collections we’ve done, we did around 700 samples,” LaBaer said, “Our goal is somewhere between 700 and 800 in a four-hour window.”

That would make a relatively small dent in the state’s current testing program, which administered 15,636 nasal and blood tests COVID-19 on Tuesday, according to the latest date from the health department.

But LaBaer said the goal is to increase testing after the first promising outings at Ak-Chin Pavilion.

“We hope to start scaling those up and doing them more often. Right now we’re doing them twice a week at least, but the goal is to get them going more commonly,” he said.

People who want to get the saliva test are required to schedule an appointment online at All slots for Saturday’s and Tuesday’s tests were filled.

As of Wednesday, July 15, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 131,354 cases of COVID-19 and 2,434 deaths in the state. It said 936,277 tests for COVID-19 have been completed in public and private labs in Arizona, and 12% of tests have come back positive for the virus that causes the disease.

Nursing homes hindered by slow test results

Officials at Arizona nursing homes say that long waits for COVID-19 test results have hindered their ability to control infection, the Arizona Republic reports.

Waits of one to two weeks are common, and officials said that two months after Gov. Doug Ducey’s announced a plan to “surge test” in nursing homes, there are still employees waiting to hear their results.

“I’ve come to think of COVID as this lurking, silent monster that’s sitting there,” Donna Taylor, chief operating officer of LifeStream Complete Senior Living told the Republic. “I don’t know where it is, and testing is my only defense to get ahead of it

Officials warn of ‘imminent’ nursing home outbreaks

The American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living pleaded for a more robust response to COVID-19 from the nation’s governors, warning of “imminent outbreaks at nursing homes and assisted living facilities” otherwise.

In a letter Tuesday to the National Governors Association, the organizations called for faster lab processing times and quick but reliable test results. The letter also called for greater suppor for personal protective equipment, particularly N-95 masks, and for governors to work with the facilities to allow them to be reopened for visitation.

Four Arizona clinics involved in final phase of COVID-19 vaccine trials

Three clinics in the Valley and one in Tucson will be part of phase 3 trials of the mRNA-1273 vaccine being developed by Moderna, according to an ABC15 report.

As many as 30,000 high-risk adults across the country will be part of the trial that is set to begin July 27 at 87 clinics nationwide. The subjects will be followed for two years after the trial for any adverse effects.

Moderna was the first company to begin trials on humans, back in March, according to the report. It’s vaccine is designed to produce antibodies to COVID-19 in subjects.

Federal judge rejects gym owner’s attempt to stay open

KJZZ reports that a federal judge in Arizona rejected an attempt by Xponential Fitness to remain open despite an order from Ducey to keep gyms closed.

U.S. District Judge Diane Humetewa acknowledged the importance of staying open and generating revenue, but said she couldn’t just void the order. She said that “quick, decisive measures to save lives” were required.

The ruling follows a decision last week by a state judge in Maricopa County who rejected claims by two gyms in the Valley that Ducey’s order should have been overturned.

Tucson Mayor hosts mask giveaway

Tucson Mayor Regina Romero and Council Member Paul Durham will host a free COVID-19 mask giveaway from 7 to 10 a.m. Saturday at the Donna Liggins Recreation Center.

The event will have drive-thru lanes for cars and bicycles, as well as a line for pedestrians. Romero and Durham will also visit Tucson House, a public housing complex, to give face masks to residents there, according to a release from the mayor’s office.

News Reporter, Phoenix

Nate Boyle is an Arizona native who expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in film and media production. Boyle primarily works as an audio reporter at Cronkite News and helps with the podcast Arizona in Focus.