Buckeye Union High School District

Buckeye Union High School District held graduations for the district’s three high schools last week. But, “with current COVID-19 cases and deaths spiking,” Tolleson Union High School canceled June 29 graduation plans for its seven high schools in  Tolleson,  Avondale and Glendale.

COVID-19 cases in the state, county and West Valley rose dramatically over the last two weeks.

With more drive-thru testing sites opening, the number of positive tests may increase even more this week.

While most with COVID-19 have mild symptoms, a sharp rise in coronavirus patients contributed to more than 80% of state hospital beds being occupied.

Buckeye Union High School district held graduations for three of its high schools last week at Goodyear Ballpark. But, due to “current COVID-19 cases and deaths spiking in Arizona,” Tolleson Union High School  Superintendent Nora Gutierrez said graduation plans for seven TUHSD high schools scheduled for June 29 were canceled. (See story, p. 21.)

Yet Gov. Doug Ducey repeatedly told reporters at a June 11 news conference that the state is in good shape. “We would like to assure the public that we have the available bed capacity and surge lines are in place to continue to serve the people of Arizona,” Ducey said. “We are well prepared to manage an increased inpatient volume.”

At a news conference the day before, Maricopa County Department of Public Health officials addressed sharply rising numbers of people testing positive and going to the hospital for COVID-19.

Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, the county health director, said community spread of COVID-19 is increasing rapidly and “hospitals are filling up.” She stressed the importance of social distancing.

“Until we have a vaccine, we cannot go back to the way things were pre-COVID-19,” added Marcy Flanagan, executive director of MCDPH. “I know this is not what people want to hear, but in order to keep our community safe and protect our most vulnerable, we have to create a new normal.

“We expected to see an increase in cases with more people out and about, but the rate at which cases are increasing is concerning. And, the thing is, we have the tools to absolutely slow our rate of infection if each of us does our part.”

An analysis of the daily data provided by the county illustrates the increases.

In April, the county reported 3,253 new COVID-19 cases, an average of 108 per day, with 525 hospitalized, an average of 17 per day.

In May, 5,549 people tested positive for COVID-19, an average of 179 per day, with 840 hospitalizations, an average of 28 per day.

So far in June, the county reports 9,618 new cases, an average of 641 per day — with more than 800 new cases reported on four days. Before June, the previous daily high was 482 new cases reported May 15.

During the first two weeks of June, 417 people were hospitalized in the county from COVID-19, an average of 28 per day. 

ZIP Code maps provided by the Arizona State Department of Health Services showed that Avondale, Buckeye, Goodyear, Litchfield Park and Tolleson positive COVID-19 tests have increased from about 125 positive tests April 12 to more than 1,500 in two months. 

(In Maricopa County, there were just under 2,000 positive tests April 12; two months later, there are more than 19,000.)

Avondale 85323 increased from 13 positive cases April 12 to 289 positive cases this week. Goodyear 85338 increased from 20 positive cases to 226 in two months.

Buckeye-Goodyear 85326 went from 18 positive COVID-19 tests to 303 in two months.

And Tolleson 85353 jumped from 14 positive cases to 399 in two months.

Nearly half (47%) of Maricopa County’s COVID-19 positive tests have been in the 20-44 age range - but only 5% of them have had to be hospitalized. And, though 9% of positive tests in the county have been younger than 20, only 1% of them have required hospitalization. 

At the June 11 news conference, Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ encouraged residents to wear face masks in public.

“If you cannot physically distance, we want you to wear a cloth face covering,” Christ said.

“Make sure that you physically distance when you are in public. If you are over the age of 65 or you have an underlying medical condition that puts you at risk, we want them to limit their time away from home.”

More positive tests seem inevitable, as test sites become far more accessible.

From 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, June 20, the Nick Lowery Youth Foundation sponsors a free COVID-19 antibody test for veterans ($40 for public) at Mama Gina’s Pizza, 9380 W. Westgate Boulevard in the Westgate Entertainment District.

Last week, Walmart launched a testing site at its Buckeye store, 1060 S. Watson Road, as well as its Anthem store, 4435 W. Anthem Way.

Walmart has at least 193 COVID-19 test sites in 31 states and has tested more than 72,500 people.

An appointment is required for a COVID-19 test at Walmart via DoINeedaCOVID19test.com. The site screens people to ensure they meet CDC eligibility for testing.

According to information on its website, Walmart is not paid for the testing.

 “Walmart is donating our parking lot space, site supplies and materials, and our associates’ time,” it read.

Also last week, CVS Health ramped up its COVID-19 testing, adding 14 drive-thru COVID testing locations in Arizona and a partnership with St. Vincent de Paul to offer rapid COVID testing.

New CVS West Valley test sites opened June 12 at:

• CVS Pharmacy, 7499 W. Bethany Home Road, Glendale.

• CVS Pharmacy, 2840 N. Dysart Road, Goodyear.

• CVS Pharmacy, 5050 W. Baseline Road, Laveen.

• CVS Pharmacy, 8332 W. Thunderbird Road, Peoria.

CVS already had West Valley test sites at 4890 N. Litchfield Road, Litchfield Park, and two Peoria locations, 10727 W. Olive Avenue and 9172 W. Union Hills Drive.

Advance registration is required at CVS.com to schedule an appointment.

There are no out-of-pocket costs for these tests for insured and uninsured patients for the CVS tests.

CVS uses self-swab testing and plans to process up to 1.5 million tests per month.

CVS team members inside the store at the drive-thru window provide patients with information on how to appropriately perform a self-swab and observe the process to ensure it is done properly, said Tobin Zdarko, Arizona director of CVS. 

“We’ve heard a lot of positive feedback on the testing sites,” Zdarko said. “We’ve seen that in internal customer service surveys with people thanking us. Also we’ve heard it when customers come into the pharmacy, they’ve thanked team members for being able to provide that service.”

Results are typically provided in two to three days, he said, with a third-party lab processing the tests. 

Zdarko said the CVS tests only require customers to insert swabs about in inch into their nostrils, unlike some tests that require deep insertion.

“Our staff was overwhelmingly eager to take this on,” he said. “During this pandemic, being able to offer this to our communities is a huge win for them.”

Sunenshine recommended the following:

• Avoid being in any setting with more than 10 people. 

• Keep at least six feet of distance from others when out in public.  

• Limit contact with those outside of our household, especially if you are in a high-risk group.    

• Stay home when you are sick.  

• Stay home as much as possible when a household member has tested positive for COVID-19 except for work and school.  

• Frequently wash hands with soap and water, and use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if unable to wash hands.

• Wear a mask or cloth face covering when going out in public.