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Pima County health officials: Hospitals will be overwhelmed in three weeks
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Pima County health officials: Hospitals will be overwhelmed in three weeks

The COVID Intensive Care Unit at Tucson Medical Center on Dec. 11, 2020.

Pima County issued a new public health advisory Monday, warning that local hospitals are “dangerously close” to being overwhelmed by unprecedented levels of new COVID-19 infections, which in December are expected to exceed all previous months of the pandemic combined.

In addition to adherence to the county’s mask and curfew mandates, the county Health Department is asking residents to limit gatherings to fewer than 10 people and is asking all businesses to reduce their indoor occupancy to 25%.

Since Dec. 1, Pima County has recorded more than 20,000 new cases of coronavirus, 214 deaths, extremely low hospital bed availability and a record number of 120 COVID-19 patients on ventilators.

“This isn’t just about COVID anymore and whether you think it’s a real problem or not,’ said Pima County’s Public Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen. “The patients filling these hospitals are absolutely real and if you have a heart attack, or if you get into a car accident, or your appendix bursts, there is a real possibility that you may not get the timely care you need to save your life if we don’t get control of this virus.”

According to the new advisory, demand for public health resources in Pima County will overwhelm the health-care system within the next two to three weeks.

During a news conference Monday, Dr. Francisco Garcia, Pima County’s chief medical officer, reminded the community about the county’s mandatory 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew and face covering requirements. People who do not comply with either of these mandates could face legal repercussions.

In addition, the Health Department is asking for residents to keep gatherings to 10 people or less and limit interactions with people from different households. Dr. Garcia said it would be best to avoid gatherings all together and stay home as much as possible, especially people who are over 65 or who have preexisting conditions.

The public health advisory also advises businesses to limit their indoor capacity to 25%, including personnel, and asks that some establishments temporarily close, including indoor playgrounds, recreational facilities, indoor fitness and dance studios, hair and nail salons, barbershops, and movie theaters.

Businesses are still required by law to report any positive COVID-19 cases among employees to the county and must comply with any case investigation, contact tracing and outbreak investigation efforts.

According to public health officials, the limitations on gatherings, business occupancy and requests to stay home are voluntary, but are in the best interest of the community.

“We are running out of the tools that we normally pull from in order to respond to these crisis situations,” Dr. Garcia said. “We are in a very serious state of affairs with regards to our hospital capacity. Our vaccinations will be revving up, but we don’t have the luxury of giving up on our mitigation measures and pretending that the vaccine is going to solve all of our problems.”

Contact reporter Jasmine Demers at jdemers@tucson.com

On Twitter: @JasmineADemers


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