Ak-Chin Pavilion

ASU launches its saliva test July 11 at Ak-Chin Pavilion, in Maryvale near Tolleson.

After another dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases in the county and state, Gov. Doug Ducey ordered restaurants to reduce capacity to less than 50% and emphasized more tests were coming.

The restaurant order puzzled some who were already reducing capacity.

“With the social distancing we were pretty close to that anyway,” said Sam Billelo, owner of Goodyear restaurants Bella Luna and Sal’s Tuscan Grill. “We moved a lot of tables and chairs.

“I must say indoor business since the governor spoke last has been real slow - so I believe the people are listening. And thank God we have a great to go business.”

Billelo said he has a safety-first attitude.

“I think we all need to do whatever it takes to get this thing done and over with so we can get back to normal,” he sadi.

Ducey promised “an exponential increase in tests and processing tests” at a press conference— and promoted Arizona State University’s first public saliva test for the virus. “It’s going to be a drive thru in the West Valley.”

The ASU test launched at Ak-Chin Pavilion, in Maryvale near Tolleson —two of the hardest-hit areas, according to the state’s “COVID-19 Cases by ZIP Code” tool.

That tool showed Maryvale 85035 with 1,977 COVID-19 cases July 13. South of 85035, Tolleson-West Phoenix 85353 had 1,538. 

North of 85035, West Phoenix 85033 had 2,157 cases July 13, with 1,815  cases in Glendale 85301.

Avondale 85323 also surged over 1,000 cases, to 1,199. Buckeye 85326 increased to 1,228 positive COVID-19 cases, slightly more than the 978 in Goodyear 85338.

Avondale’s numbers may jump again soon, as the city sponsored a testing event July 10 and July 11 for city residents and employees.

Positive test results around the West Valley may increase dramatically this week, with Ducey’s emphasis on expanding testing. 

 “We are excited to partner with Arizona State University to launch this new testing program that will increase our capacity to test more people for COVID-19,” said Dr. Cara Christ, ADHS director.

“It is the university’s commitment to be of service to the citizens of the state of Arizona in any way we can as we all work together to deal with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “We are fortunate to have some extremely talented people at the university who have developed an innovative testing model and it is our duty to share that expertise and put it to work to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

The ASU saliva test debuted a day after Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego called for more testing in Maryvale and West Phoenix. 

Interviewed on MSNBC, Gallego said Abrazo Health requested refrigerated trucks to be used as emergency morgues.

Abrazo has hospitals around the Valley, including Abrazo West in Goodyear and Abrazo Arrowhead in Glendale/Peoria. “It is very scary out here,” Gallego said. “The Abrazo health care system has run out of morgue beds.”

Abrazo spokesman Keith Jones denied that. 

“Abrazo hospitals have adequate morgue space,” he said. “The state has requested that hospitals implement their emergency plans. Part of activating our plan includes the ability to handle overflow morgue capacity if needed. 

“Abrazo has taken a proactive approach by ordering refrigerated storage in the event it may be needed during a surge of COVID patients.  At this point it is not needed. We do agree with the mayor’s points around promoting awareness around masking, continuing to practice social distancing and seeking medical care in the event of an emergency need.”

According to the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, the county medical examiner’s office has a normal capacity of 150 “and is at about 96% of that capacity. 

As a precautionary measure, Maricopa County Unified Command has put plans and contracts into place to be able to quickly lease additional cooling space if necessary.”

Though there is often a delay in reporting, the county’s daily report on COVID-19 showed a significant increase in deaths over the last few days.

On June 30, Maricopa County reported 734 deaths as of that date from COVID-19. On July 13, the county COVID-19 death total was 1,101. Over the first two weeks of July, the county reported 358 deaths from COVID-19 — meaning 32% of the total deaths over more than three months have been reported in the last two weeks. 

Maricopa County COVID-19 reported deaths by month: April, 141; May, 263; June, 364.

The recent surge in deaths underscore what Ducey called “the brutal facts of our current situation.”

Even so, he ended his July 9 press conference on a positive note:

“We are seeing some encouraging results,” Ducey said. “It is time to keep pressing . . .”

Ducey alluded to orders by West Valley cities and Maricopa County requiring people to wear masks in public.

“We are seeing some better results. The actions we took 10 days ago are making a difference,” Ducey said.

Indeed, on July 13, Maricopa County reported a relatively small 1,102 new COVID-19 cases, with the state reporting 1,357 new cases — both less than a third of the peaks reported two weeks ago.  “The best thing you can do is wear a mask . . . the virus is widespread and by personal decisions you can avoid contracting it,” Ducey said.

“We’re seeing some progress in Arizona. We need to see more,” Ducey said. “If you need to do something, go out and do it — and go home.”