3 Arizona counties could fall next week to substantial status for COVID-19

Dec 3, 2020, 11:43 AM | Updated: 12:43 pm

PHOENIX – Three Arizona counties are just one week from potentially hitting the COVID-19 benchmarks that could require certain businesses to close again, according Thursday’s state dashboard updates.

However, the state won’t necessarily force businesses in counties that reenter substantial spread status to close, an Arizona Department of Health Services spokesman told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“If a county moves into substantial on all business benchmarks for two weeks, the state will work with officials there to determine the best course of action for public health,” Steve Elliott, the agency’s communications director, said in an email.

“Potential responses include targeting areas where spread is elevated for further mitigation measures such as — but not limited to — further reduced occupancy at businesses covered by the executive orders.”

Yavapai, Apache and Navajo counties have been in the substantial range for two metrics for at least two consecutive weeks and entered the highest spread level for the third metric in the newest week of data.

The Arizona Department of Health Services dashboards for schools and businesses are based on benchmarks in three metrics that gauge how widespread the disease is in each county.

The dashboards are updated each Thursday with data at least 12 days old to account for lags in reporting, ensuring that assessments are based on accurate statistics. The latest update covers the weeks starting Nov. 8 and 15 (through Nov. 21).

The business benchmarks are state requirements that must be followed by establishments previously closed under Gov. Doug Ducey’s June executive order: indoor gyms, bars operating as restaurants, theaters, water parks and tubing venues.

The schools benchmarks were designed as guidance for public K-12 districts and charters in their decisions about opening levels. Districts, however, have the final say in whether they offer virtual, hybrid or traditional learning formats.

Currently, all 15 counties are in the moderate stage, meaning the businesses impacted by the executive order can operate under capacity caps that vary by industry.

The metrics have been low enough for business openings and hybrid or traditional learning recommendations across Arizona for at least the past two months.

The recent surge of cases and hospitalizations has pushed some of the state’s northern region to the brink of the highest classification.

Every Arizona county has two consecutive weeks in the substantial range for at least one metric.

Eleven counties, including Maricopa, are in substantial for two weeks in two metrics: cases per 100,000 residents and percent positivity for COVID-19 diagnostic testing.

Of those 11, only Yavapai, Apache and Navajo are also substantial for one week in he metric of hospital visits for COVID-like illnesses in the region.

“We continue to be on high alert and are constantly evaluating the data and metrics to inform our decisions,” Elliott said.

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3 Arizona counties could fall next week to substantial status for COVID-19