Arizona to disclose more information about locations of coronavirus cases
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Arizona to disclose more information about locations of coronavirus cases

From the April's Tucson-area coronavirus coverage: 1,200+ Pima County cases, stay-home order extended series

State Health Director Dr. Cara Christ answers questions Thursday, with Gov. Doug Ducey to her left, in front of St. Luke’s Hospital in Phoenix which the state is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to reopen to handle COVID-19 patients.

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PHOENIX — Arizonans will soon know more about whether their neighbors are getting sick and dying from COVID-19.

Beginning Sunday, the state Department of Health Services will provide information on location — by ZIP codes — of patients with confirmed diagnoses of the virus, and will also start listing race and ethnic information about the patients.

Deaths will be recorded by age and gender — but not necessarily with the same geographic precision. The issue is privacy, said department spokesman Chris Minnick.

If there are few enough deaths within any ZIP code that a specific person could be identified, they will not disclose the locations, he said. Minnick said the details of how that would be handled are still being determined.

Those reports may not be fully accurate at first.

State health director Dr. Cara Christ noted that it was only this week that Gov. Doug Ducey ordered hospitals to provide more information to the state about their cases. Complete reports from the hospitals haven’t been available so far, she said. They “had a lot of unknowns and a lot of blank entries,” she said.

Sunday’s public reports by the state also “won’t be 100 percent complete” because the hospitals are not due to file their first reports until Friday, April 10.

But Minnick said that, when fully functioning, the health department’s website will have all the Arizona data going back to the first reports of COVID-19 illness and death.

Ducey said his order earlier this week also requires reporting of the number of ventilators in use and how much personal protection equipment — masks, gowns and gloves — is being used each day, along with current inventories.

The reporting requirements are likely to blunt litigation filed by state Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, and other elected officials.

They want a Pinal County judge to order the Department of Health Services “to immediately release all prior (and to be obtained) general and non-personally identifiable information” about the detection, reporting, prevention and control of COVID-19.

Their lawsuit also seeks information on testing practices, pending results, number of patients hospitalized, number of ventilators available and how many are required.

Christ said the department’s website will have at least some of that information, including the number of hospital and intensive-care beds available and the number of beds in use for COVID-19 treatment. There also will be data about the number of hospitalizations and visits to the emergency departments for treatment of the virus.

That data, however, will be available only on a statewide basis.

The announcement came as Christ and the governor took a quick tour of efforts by the Army Corps of Engineers to put St. Luke’s Medical Center in Phoenix back into service. It shuttered late last year after hospital officials said that, on average, only one bed out of every three was being occupied on any given night.

Ducey said the pandemic has changed the medical landscape.

“St. Luke’s will be reopening its doors with 339 ICU high-acuity beds, with flexibility for other needs as the situation on the ground unfolds,” he said. “These beds will provide additional surge capacity for Maricopa County.”

State health officials say the number of confirmed cases should peak sometime this month, with hospitalizations expected to hit their peak in May. Ducey said the St. Luke’s beds should be available within three weeks.

Both Ducey and Christ came out of the hospital after the tour and conducted Thursday’s press briefing without masks.

This is of note as Christ, who a week earlier said masks were not necessary for those who are healthy, said earlier this week that she now advises people who go out to wear them.

That follows similar advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said that people who have the virus may not have symptoms yet may be able to spread the virus. Wearing masks helps stop that.

Ducey, who said he has not been tested to see if he is infected, said the CDC guidance was just “a recommendation.”

“Of course, it’s voluntary,” he said. “How I’ve read the guidance is that if people want to wear a mask, where they’d like people to wear a mask, is if they’re outside and they cannot socially distance.

“If I find myself in that situation, I’ll be wearing a mask, and I have masks available.”

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