Weekend wrap-up: Here are the biggest Arizona stories from Dec. 18-20

Dec 20, 2020, 6:00 PM

PHOENIX – Arizona’s coronavirus vaccine shipment is less than expected, two people were charged for coronavirus business relief fraud and COVID-19 cases continue to surge in the state.

Here are some of the biggest stories that headlined the Arizona news cycle over the weekend.

Arizona to receive fewer coronavirus vaccines than expected for next week

Arizona will not receive its full allotment of COVID-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer for the upcoming week, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Health officials said in a press release Friday that the state expected to order 70,200 vaccine doses, but was only able to order 41,925.

The department contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for an explanation but are awaiting a response, according to the release.

In recent days, governors and health leaders in more than a dozen states have said the federal government has told them that next week’s shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be less than originally projected.

Little explanation was offered, leaving many state officials perplexed.

2 Phoenix residents among 4 charged in coronavirus business relief fraud

Two Phoenix residents are among four people facing charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering in connection with fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program loan applications, according to authorities.

The United States Attorney’s Office said that 44-year-old Celestine Coletta Strong and 23-year-old Ty’zhaun Marqui Lewis conspired to submit loan applications with falsified employee and wage information, bank statements and other false information to obtain more than $3.5 million from 15 different loans.

The incidents took place between April and June.

Around $450,000 was obtained, some of which was used to buy a luxury Mercedes E400 that was later seized, before the scheme was interrupted.

Arizona reports 5,366 new coronavirus cases, 34 more deaths

Arizona health officials on Sunday reported 5,366 new coronavirus cases and 34 additional deaths, as the virus surge continues to put a strain on hospitals.

The state’s documented totals increased to 453,597 COVID-19 infections and 7,971 fatalities, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Arizona’s weekly percent positivity for COVID-19 diagnostic testing, an indicator of how much the virus is spreading in the community, is showing signs of leveling off.

Through 116,478 tests this week, the positivity rate was 17%. The rate, which was 18% the previous two weeks, peaked at 21% at the end of June.

Arizona girl wins Nickelodeon’s second season of ‘Top Elf’

A local seventh-grader was selected as Santa’s top elf in the second season of the Nickelodeon television show “Top Elf” Friday night, earning $25,000 for charity and a holly-jolly vacation.

Bali Bare competed against six other contestants from around the country in holiday-themed challenges focusing on design, building, creativity and holiday cheer, according to a press release.

Bare is donating the prize money to Miracle League of Arizona, where both her brother and cousin who have special needs play baseball, according to the release.

UArizona says contact tracing app has reduced coronavirus cases by 12%

A COVID-19 contact tracing app launched by the University of Arizona in August has reduced coronavirus transmission by 12%, according to university analysts.

“A 12% reduction in that transmission doesn’t just mean that you have a reduction in that next wave of cases but every subsequent wave of cases,” College of Public Health professor Kacey Ernst said in a press release.

“If one in eight can benefit from this, that’s pretty good. It’s easy to use, and the benefit keeps increasing as more people use it.”

The COVID Watch Arizona app is fully anonymous and works by exchanging random codes between app users’ phones via Bluetooth when they are near each other instead of tracking users’ locations.

When someone tests positive for coronavirus, they can enter a verification code into the app, which then sends an alert to users who were near the infected person and may have been exposed.

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Weekend wrap-up: Here are the biggest Arizona stories from Dec. 18-20