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Arizona virus death toll tops 8K with 2nd-largest daily rise
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Arizona virus death toll tops 8K with 2nd-largest daily rise

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Banner Health hospitals, ICUs are filling up in Phoenix area

FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2020, file photo, vehicles line up at patrons wait for COVID-19 tests at a drive-thru testing center in Phoenix. Arizona's death toll from the coronavirus outbreak passed the 8,000 mark on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, as the state reported an additional 153 known deaths, the second-highest daily increase during the pandemic. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

PHOENIX — Arizona's death toll from the coronavirus outbreak passed the 8,000 mark on Tuesday as the state reported an additional 153 known deaths, the second-highest daily increase during the pandemic.

The 5,869 additional known COVID-19 cases reported Tuesday by the Department of Health Services increased the pandemic's total to 467,215 cases along with 8,125 deaths.

Coconino County added 95 cases and two deaths in Tuesday's report, bringing its totals to 10,025 positive cases and 188 deaths.

According to the state coronavirus dashboard, there were 4,019 COVID-19-related hospitalizations as of Monday, the latest in a string of pandemic-highs recorded this month during the fall surge that is continuing into winter.

The dashboard reported that only 9% of hospital beds statewide were not in use and available. Bed availability has hovered at that approximate level since earlier this month as the surge accelerated after Thanksgiving because of gatherings and travel.

The Pima County Health Department on Monday warned that metro Tucson's health care system was “in danger of being overwhelmed" by the surge.

“In the last week, there have been multiple times when there have been no ICU beds available in Pima County; at different times, hospital medical/surgical beds have also reached capacity," the department said in a public health advisory update.

The advisory called for mask wearing, distancing, limiting gatherings, reducing business occupancies and adhering to the county's nightly curfew.

Hospital officials and public health officials in metro Phoenix also have issued similar warnings.

The 153 deaths reported statewide Tuesday was behind only the 172 deaths reported on July 30 during the summer surge.

The state reported only one additional COVID-19 death Monday, but the seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Arizona as of Monday stood at 87.7, up from 44.4 on Dec. 7.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Arizona also rose over the past two weeks, going from from 5,575.14 to 5,871, while the positivity rate from COVID-19 testing in Arizona dropped from 14.9% to 13.1%.

COVID-19 vaccinations that began last week in Arizona's large metro areas have now begun in outlying areas of the state.

In Yuma County in southwestern Arizona, 20 of the county's initial vaccinations were administered to frontline heath care providers in a test conducted Monday by Yuma Regional Medical Center, the Yuma Sun reported.

In a related development, the Maricopa County Department of Public Health announced that it received its first shipment of the Moderna vaccine, the second COVID-19 vaccine authorized for emergency use in the United States.

The department said it was earmarking doses of the Moderna vaccine for long-term care facilities.

In other news:

-- The Navajo Nation is reporting 151 new coronavirus cases and seven more deaths from COVID-19.

The latest figures reported Tuesday by the Navajo Department of Health bring the total number of cases on the reservation that extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah to 21,327. The Navajo Nation has reported 755 deaths since the pandemic hit.

The Health Department says the first doses of the recently approved vaccine made by Moderna have arrived at the Navajo Area Indian Health Service.

The Navajo Nation is in a three-week lockdown requiring all residents to stay home except for emergencies, shopping for essentials like food and medicine or traveling to an essential job.

“With the arrival of the first shipment of Moderna vaccines today, we have another weapon to help us fight COVID-19, but it will take time," Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement. “Until the vaccine is widely available, we have to keep our guard up and not let down.”

-- Also Tuesday, Gov. Doug Ducey announced that the state will distribute $40.2 million of federal funding to help people facing homelessness and to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among vulnerable populations.

Planned uses for the money will include expanding shelters, adding transitional housing and providing emergency payments of rent, utility, food and clothing for families and individuals, Ducey's office said in a statement.

-- The Arizona Senate has announced a new set of COVID-19 safety guidelines for the upcoming legislative session in January, including requiring masks.

Arizona Senate President Karen Fann told the senators and staff on Monday that anyone who enters the Senate building must have their temperature checked and be wearing masks at all times.

The guidelines also require 6 feet of social distancing when possible and prohibits handshakes or any physical contact during committee hearings and gatherings.

“This was not the scenario I had hoped for the 55th Legislature, but it is necessary to ensure we conduct legislative business and avoid disruption of the process to the best of our ability,” Fann said.

Fann warned that failing to comply with the rules could result in an early end of the session. Lawmakers shut down their buildings last month and cut the 2020 session short because of the pandemic.

“Failure to adhere could result in lack of quorums, inability to conduct voting and other work we need to accomplish, or ultimately session shutdown,” Fann said.

Senate security has been tasked with enforcing the protocols.

The policy bans anyone who is sick or has knowingly been exposed to COVID-19 but doesn't show symptoms from entering the building and requires staff to notify supervisors if they’re sick or test positive. Similar notification requirements are also made of visitors and senators.

Senate Comptroller Susie Myers will oversee the chamber’s virus safety guidelines and conduct internal contact tracing if lawmakers contract COVID-19. The Senate will highly encourage staff and lawmakers to be tested once a week and provide free tests on site when tests are more readily available, she said.

The Senate will allow visitors, but only to attend scheduled meetings with lawmakers or staff, or to attend committee hearings, officials said. Visitors will only be allowed in 10 minutes before hearings, and must leave the building immediately after it’s over.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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