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Increased testing in Pima County has officials feeling 'much better'

Increased testing in Pima County has officials feeling 'much better'

COVID-19 Test

The Pima County Health Department and Paradigm Laboratories are offering free COVID-19 tests at the Kino Event Center, 2805 E. Ajo Way. Testing is by appointment only.

While new cases of coronavirus in Pima County appear to have plateaued in mid- to late August, recent data also show that testing volume and total tests have simultaneously stabilized, leaving Pima County officials feeling “much better” about their current testing capacity.

Data from the Arizona Department of Health Services shows that 9,739 diagnostic tests were completed in Pima County in the week that ended Aug. 15, representing a 16% increase from the week before. Statewide, that increase was about 12%.

Early numbers from the following week similarly show 9,360 diagnostic tests in Pima County, already more than the week that ended Aug. 8. Those totals don’t include potentially hundreds of test results that are sometimes inputted later because of reporting lags.

In Pima County, those numbers were buoyed by the county’s three free testing sites — one at Kino Event Center, one at Ellie Towne Center and one at the Morris K. Udall Center, according to Dr. Francisco Garcia, the county’s chief medical officer.

“I actually feel like, by and large, people in Pima County who want to get tested have abundant resources, geographically spread out through a variety of different providers and vendors, to get tested,” said Dr. Francisco Garcia, Pima County’s chief medical officer. “I don’t think there is any excuse for folks not getting tested.”

The increase in testing capacity simultaneously came as Arizona saw its fifth straight week of declining hospitalizations, deaths and new cases. Pima County reached a weekly percent positive in testing of 4% in the week that ended Aug. 16.

But despite those numbers, testing volume has not decreased, and those three testing sites — as well as mobile testing sites — represented 36% of the test kit volume distributed by the county as of Aug. 28, data show. Turnaround time has been a little more than two days.

This week, the county’s Road to Recovery Committee, which is made of local public-health and hospital officials, opted to buck recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control and continue testing asymptomatic patients.

Garcia said the practice helps local public-health officials determine the spread of the outbreak, even when the hospitalization and death risk in the affected parties might be minimal.

That could especially come in handy as the county continues to monitor expected outbreaks of University of Arizona students, where there is already evidence of an early spike. That demographic is unlikely to die or be hospitalized but could pass it along to some contacts who might.

“This younger age group is what’s driving our infection in this community. It’s not any of the other age groups,” Garcia said, adding that it’s specifically people in their teens to early 20s. “That continues to be our greatest concern and our greatest vulnerability.”

Contact reporter Justin Sayers at jsayers1@tucson.com or 573-4192. Twitter: @_JustinSayers. Facebook: JustinSSayers.

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