PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) – Arizona crossed another milestone in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic – more than 200,000 cases statewide – and is closing in on another – nearly 5,000 deaths. New numbers posted by the Arizona Department of Health Services Thursday morning included 680 newly reported cases of COVID-19 and 33 newly reported deaths.

As of Thursday morning

  • Total Arizona COVID-19 cases: 200,139
  • Total Arizona COVID-19 deaths: 4,929
  • Weekly average positivity rate from AZDHS: 6%
  • Rolling 7-day average from Johns Hopkins: 7.0%

To address the state's progress as more businesses plan to reopen, Dr. Cara Christ, the director of AZDHS, talked with Arizona's Family shortly after the new statistics were released.

"Today, we will be approaching a new benchmark in several of our counties," she said. "Eight of our [15] counties are going to move into the moderate range, and one of our counties is actually going to move into the minimal range. We are very excited that Arizonans are doing everything they can to prevent the transmission of coronavirus, and we really need to keep it up."

Maricopa County is one of the eight counties moving into the moderate range. The other seven are Apache, Cochise, Coconino, La Paz, Navajo, Pima, and Yavapai. Greenlee has moved into the minimal category. Gila, Graham, Mohave, Pinal, Santa Cruz, and Yuma counties remain in the substantial category.

3 Arizona counties, including Maricopa, could meet benchmarks to reopen businesses Thursday

"What that means is that businesses that were limited by Executive Order 2020-43 will be able to open with reduced capacity and stringent requirements in place, which are COVID prevention strategies," Christ explained.

"As we continue to move forward, Maricopa County is trending in the right direction," she continued. "That makes the state tend in the right direction because of the large population in Maricopa County."

Harkins reopening all of its Arizona theaters today

It remains to be seen how the reopening of businesses and schools will affect that positive trend. Arizonans who spot reopened businesses who are not complying with the restrictions to help stop the coronavirus spread can now send their complaints to AZDHS.

Arizonans can file complaints using hotline, website for businesses breaking COVID-19 rules

Reaction to Reopening

Thunderbird Lounge in central Phoenix will open Thursday night, welcoming patrons onto its patio.

"We have hand sanitizer at every single table. All of our staff is wearing masks," says owner Jeremiah Gratza.

Since St. Patrick's Day, the bar has been closed, though Gratza maintains he and his crew could have safely accommodated patrons throughout the pandemic. Thunderbird Lounge was one of more than 100 bars that attempted to sue the state, arguing they were unfairly shut down when other businesses stayed open. This week, the Arizona Supreme Court said it would not hear the case.

"From the beginning, it should have been taken on an individual one-by-one situation," says Gratza.

Gratza hopes the situation for him and his employees improves from here.

"I'm just trying to stay positive for right now," says Gratza. "I'm trying to look ahead and say, you know, one day at a time. Today we're allowed to open up at 50% capacity and I'll take that. Tomorrow we'll do what we have to do."

COVID-19 Testing

Christ also addressed the issue of coronavirus testing.

"Arizona has done really well at increasing the [testing] capacity," she said. "Our labs now have a current turnaround time of about 24 to 48 hours, depending on the lab."

Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidelines for COVID-19 testing. Early on in the pandemic, the CDC said those who had been exposed to the virus – or even thought they might have been exposed – should be tested, even if they're not showing symptoms. Now the agency says some people without symptoms may not need to be tested, even if they've been in close contact with someone known to have the virus.

Medical experts puzzled about new CDC guidelines for reduced COVID-19 testing

"If you have been in close contact (within 6 feet) of a person with a COVID-19 infection for at least 15 minutes but do not have symptoms, you do not necessarily need a test unless you are a vulnerable individual or your health care provider or State or local public health officials recommend you take one," the CDC website was changed to read earlier this week. Here in Arizona, health officials are sticking with the original recommendation.

"We encourage all Arizonans who believe that they've been exposed to or infected with COVID-19 to go get a test," Christ said.

🡕 Find a testing location near you at azhealth.gov.

Christ also touched on the reopening of Arizona's schools. AZDHS put together a set of benchmarks earlier this month, but Christ said those are more guidelines than hard-and-fast rules. She said local health departments and school districts know their communities best and will steer the decisions when it comes to in-person learning. But there is something all of Arizona's schools must do.

Arizona health officials issue guidelines for safe return to in-person learning

"They have to have a mitigation plan that they post on their website about what they're going to do about making sure kids aren't sick, that they're cohorting, that they're requiring masks, and that they're physically distancing," Christ said.

What does it mean when Arizona school districts want to 'cohort' students?
CDC Study: Kids of all ages susceptible to COVID-19 and transmission
Arizona schools implementing 14 most common COVID-19 safety protocols

She also said an emergency measure signed this week requires schools to report outbreaks, which she described as "two unrelated cases of COVID, or more, that occur at the school that don't have any other outside contacts." Those reports will be made to the county health departments. Christ said such reports are not unusual and that schools already have to report outbreaks of diseases like measles, mumps, and chickenpox. Decisions about what to do in the case of an outbreak will be guided by the individual county health departments and will be made on a school-by-school and a case-by-case basis.

"While we're heading in the right direction, we're not out of the woods," Christ said. "Coronavirus is still in our community. We expect it to be in our community for a while." She urged Arizonans to continue doing three things.

  1. Wear masks
  2. Physically distance
  3. Stay home when you're sick

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

 

Copyright 2020 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

Recommended for you