By Grace Lieberman / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ
As most of Arizona counties’ new COVID-19 cases dwindle to low double digits, Pinal County reported 982 new cases this week.
Pinal had more cases than any other county in the state, and over 200 more than Pima County, which had the second highest amount. Pinal has the third highest number of cumulative cases in the state by county behind Maricopa and Pima.
Statewide, the Arizona Department of Health reported 2,777 new cases this week.
The rise in cases in Arizona’s third most populous county follows a string of new pandemic-related developments in Arizona.
The state ended its declaration of a public health emergency relating to COVID-19 on March 30. After the end of the emergency declaration, hospitals are no longer required to report their COVID-19 surveillance data to the state. The ADHS’s COVID-19 dashboard has stopped displaying data of the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals as a result.
Though Pinal’s new case number was higher than others, the state has seen a trend of declining case numbers after January’s peak from the Omicron variant.
All of Arizona’s other counties have been rated with a “low” community level by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while Pinal is rated “medium.”
The ratings were mostly lowered after the CDC changed its parameters for community transmission ratings. Before the change, more than 90% of U.S. counties had a high rating, including every county in Arizona.
Under CDC guidelines, it does not recommend face masks for low rated counties or most medium rated areas, but recommends at-risk individuals consult their doctor about what precautionary measures they should be taking.
Arizona has maintained a relatively lax stance on mask mandates. Arizona has never had a formal statewide mandate while counties and cities have implemented and changed area-specific guidelines in response to case counts.
In March last year, Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order lifting all COVID-19 restrictions on businesses. The measure attempted to restrict local government and schools’ abilities to implement or enforce their own mandates, but was shot down by the courts.
Businesses have been increasingly loosening their mask requirements recently. Many restaurants, museums, and venues encourage but do not require masks, or ask for proof of vaccination or a recent negative test for entry.
Many lawmakers in Pinal County have been staunchly against any mask mandate. Shortly following Arizona’s recommendation that residents mask in indoor areas and schools, State Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, called on other leaders to sign a proclamation against mandates. At the time, the CDC recommended mandates in counties with Arizona’s ratings.
Townsend clarified about the proclamation that she wasn’t implying the Delta variant was not dangerous, and she was not advocating against wearing masks. Instead, she said, her aim was to protect residents rights.
Pinal has a 55.7% vaccination rate, on par with other counties in Arizona. ADHS reports that just over 70% of Arizonans have received at least one dose of a vaccine, compared with 77% nationwide according to Mayo Clinic. Mayo reports that 65.8% of the country has been fully vaccinated.
According to AHDS Pinal county has reported 132,363 total cases and 1,646 total deaths.