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Pima County issues voluntary nightly curfew to curb coronavirus spread
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Pima County issues voluntary nightly curfew to curb coronavirus spread

As the spread of coronavirus reaches unprecedented levels in Arizona, the Pima County Health Department on Monday issued a public health advisory and implemented a voluntary nightly curfew through the end of the year.

The Health Department reported 878 new coronavirus infections Sunday, the highest single day total since the pandemic began in March. It also recorded the largest weekly case count last week at 2,575 cases.

Public health officials are asking that Pima County residents observe a voluntary curfew between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. nightly through Dec. 31. It does not apply to residents who do not have a fixed address.

Under the curfew, residents may leave home to attend work or other essential activities such as grocery shopping, obtaining medical care, caring for family members or other emergency situations.

While the county does not have the authority to mandate a curfew, officials said they are hoping residents will take the recommendation seriously and work to prevent further transmission.

“This is a first step,” said County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. “We’re trying to get people to pay attention since we’re now at the worst point we’ve ever been with infections.”

The public health advisory comes as hospitals across the state are being inundated with patients, for both COVID-19 and other illnesses. During a Tucson City Council meeting last week, county Health Director Theresa Cullen said “our hospitals are in trouble.” According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, hospital bed capacity is down to 10% as of Monday, which is the lowest level since July.

“It is necessary to take this additional step due to the accelerating nature of the pandemic in our community,” Cullen said. “While we appreciate the efforts of the majority of residents to slow the spread of the virus, a segment of the population continues to participate in social gatherings and resist the use of masks, which exacerbates an already critical situation.”

In recent weeks, the Health Department has encouraged residents to avoid gatherings outside of their household for the holidays and has pushed for additional COVID-19 testing throughout the county.

School athletics

The county also made the decision last week to cancel all athletic events, practices and tournaments at county facilities through the end of the year, citing concerns about potential transmission from out-of-area athletes.

The county is also working with local superintendents at both public and private schools, recommending that schools cease all fall athletic events, including practices, and close public school facilities from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. each day.

“We’re strongly encouraging that they discontinue sporting events or gatherings, particularly with contact sports where we’ve already had documented cases,” Huckleberry said. “Given the current state of infections, it’s advisable to take a conservative approach.”

Over the last four weeks, COVID-19 transmission in Pima County has increased drastically, going from a 3% positivity rate to now over 10%.

“We anticipated that we would see an increase after Halloween and the political events leading up to the elections,” Cullen said. “We cannot relax on taking steps as a community. We all have a role to play in preventing the spread of the disease before we see more increases in transmission.”

Contact reporter Jasmine Demers at jdemers@tucson.com.

On Twitter: @JasmineADemers

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