COVID-19 dashboard status is now substantial in 3 Arizona counties

Dec 10, 2020, 9:26 AM | Updated: 4:25 pm
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)...
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Three Arizona counties reentered the substantial spread status for COVID-19 on Thursday, which could mean certain businesses there will have to close again.

Yavapai, Apache and Navajo became the first counties to return to substantial spread status in the state’s COVID-19 dashboards for businesses and schools since openings commenced in August. All 15 counties had exited substantial status by Oct. 1.

For schools, substantial status means the Arizona Department of Health Services recommends online-only classes.

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.

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.

Reentering substantial status won’t necessarily trigger new closures, an Arizona Department of Health Services spokesman told KTAR News 92.3 FM last week, but it’s a possibility.

“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.”

Elliott said in an email to KTAR News on Thursday that there are currently no plans to shut down businesses affected by the order.

“Most businesses have done an excellent job of following the mitigation requirements, and there are no plans at this time to shut down businesses covered by the executive order,” Elliott said.

“We continue to urge Arizonans to focus on taking precautions at small private gatherings. Too often, people who follow mitigation requirements at businesses and elsewhere are letting down their guard when they are around people they know and trust, such as wearing masks and maintaining physical distance.”

The dashboards are updated once a week 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. 15 and 22 (through Nov. 28).

The dashboards are based on benchmarks in three metrics that gauge how widespread the disease is in each county. County status doesn’t change until all three metrics hit a new stage for at least two consecutive weeks.

Most counties have been in the substantial range for at least two weeks in two metrics: cases per 100,000 residents and percent positivity for COVID-19 diagnostic testing.

But the metric for hospital visits for COVID-like illnesses in the region had kept all counties in the moderate status until Thursday.

Because that metric is based on regions – clusters of counties in the western, southeastern, central and northern parts of the state – five more counties are in danger of hitting substantial status when the dashboards update next week.

Each of the counties in the south region – Pima, Santa Cruz, Cochise, Graham and Greenlee – are in the substantial spread for two metrics for at least two weeks, and the regional metric for hospital visits for COVID-like illnesses is substantial for the most recent week of data.

Four other counties are in the substantial range for at least two weeks – Maricopa, Mohave, Yuma, Pinal and Coconino – but are moderate in the most recent data for the third.

La Paz and Gila counties each have two weeks in the substantial range for just one metric.

Beyond the school and business dashboards, multiple COVID-19 metrics in Arizona are at or approaching the highest they’ve been since the start of the pandemic.

The Arizona health department reported 4,928 new coronavirus cases and 73 additional deaths on Thursday morning, putting the state’s totals at 387,529 COVID-19 infections and 7,154 fatalities.

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COVID-19 dashboard status is now substantial in 3 Arizona counties