Cene Backus

Cene Backus received her second dose with her husband, Larry, in March. The vaccination was part of a second-dose site to vaccinate those from Green Valley's Feb. 3-5 vaccination event.

Here’s what we know this week about COVID-19.

Rules relaxed

Gov. Doug Ducey announced Thursday a big loosening up of COVID-19 mitigation requirements.

Citing declining cases, mass distribution of the vaccine and lower hospitalization rates, Ducey issued an Executive Order that transitions business requirements to stop the spread of COVID-19 into recommendations.

The changes include:

•Restrictions on organized public events have been lifted. Events of more than 50 people will no longer need approval from local governments. Organizers should encourage social distancing and safety precautions but it won’t be enforced.

•The guidance for businesses is moving from requirements to recommendations. While businesses still have the right to implement and enforce safety procedures, like requiring customers to wear masks and social distancing, it is no longer a requirement.

•Bars, which have been allowed to operate if they have “dine-in” options, will now be able to resume their regular services without needing to serve food. They can require masks and social distancing, but do not have to.

The latest order will also phase out local mask mandates implemented by individual municipalities. There has never been a state mask mandate, but Pima County and Tucson implemented one. Under this, municipalities can’t create rules in conflict with the state, including masks, and any policies that exist like this will not be enforced.

The state is still encouraging mask wearing but no longer enforcing it.

FEMA PODS

After originally denying an offer from FEMA to set up two federally run vaccination sites in Pima County, the state announced Friday it has written to FEMA granting permission for the county and FEMA to work directly on the sites, independent from the state.

On Friday, state Health Director Cara Christ said the county had provided assurances it can support the sites. The state’s only caveat to FEMA is that the vaccine allotment will not come from the state’s allocation.

The decision comes after the Pima County Board of Supervisors held an emergency meeting Wednesday and voted 5-0 to invite FEMA to set up the two PODS after the state declined the offer.

They had written to Ducey requesting he reconsider the offer and voted to go directly to the Biden Administration if the state denied the request again.

County leaders said they wanted these sites and additional doses, which would be set up at El Pueblo Community Center and the Kino Event Center, areas with high populations of low-income people and minorities.

County eligibility 

On Thursday, Pima County opened vaccine eligibility to several additional groups in an effort to align as close to the state’s widened eligibility as possible.

Where the state is now allowing anyone ages 16 and older to register for state-run sites, like the University of Arizona POD, the county is  allowing those 16 and older with a CDC-listed eligible health condition or disability, those living in congregate settings or who are homeless, and/or those 16 and up who are essential workers in specified categories.

County Chief Medical Officer Francisco Garcia said Wednesday that in Arizona there is still not enough vaccine supply to support the demand for appointments, but they are hopeful when additional supply is available, they’ll be ready.

“Just because a group becomes eligible doesn't mean vaccine magically becomes available,” he said. “We’re trying to build the ability to identify folks so once the spigot opens, we will be able to fairly quickly get the vaccine into their arms.”

To register for a Pima County site under the latest eligibility or any previous eligibility, visit pima.gov/covid19vaccine.

More in GV

Cullen said they are trying to increase vaccine allocations to rural community partners, such as United Community Health Center. 

She said Friday that they expect to see a significant increase in vaccine supply going to rural area partners like UCHC this week. It is not clear how many vaccines will be coming to Green Valley as of Friday. 

Variants in county

There have been confirmed cases of several variants in Pima County and Garcia said it was only a matter of time before they arrived.

“It’s being seen here in the population. Why does it matter? We have reason to believe this variant may be more transmissible than the previous type,” he said. “Transmission is what has driven the pandemic.”

Garcia said the UK variant may cause more hospitalizations, death and increased strain on hospitals should it become dominant.

“We’re in an arms race and we need to vaccinate as many as possible in a short period of time so when it circulates people who are immunized have some degree of protection,” he said. “We do know it’s good protection.”

On Thursday, the University of Arizona announced the UK variant has been identified on campus.

According to the CDC, this variant is 50 percent more transmissible and symptoms are likely to be more severe.

Funeral assistance

FEMA announced this week it will provide financial assistance for COVID-19-related funeral expenses incurred after Jan. 20, 2020.

The funding is coming through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

To be eligible, the death must have occurred in the United States, the death certificate must indicate the death was due to COVID-19 and the person applying must be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien who incurred funeral expenses after Jan. 20, 2020.

The deceased person doesn’t have to be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national or qualified alien.

For more information and updates, visit fema.gov/disasters/coronavirus/economic/funeral-assistance.

Jamie Verwys | 520-547-9728 

Reporter

Reporter Jamie Verwys grew up in Sahuarita and graduated from the high school in 2006. She lives in Tucson and graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2018.