Pinal County sees over 200 new COVID-19 cases as related funding is denied

Jeremy Beren

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By Jeremy Beren / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

(Pinal County, Ariz.) — Pinal County, which is Arizona's third-largest county by population, recorded 207 new COVID-19 cases in the past week in addition to 16 deaths.

As part of continued weekly updates to its COVID-19 data dashboard, the Arizona Department of Health Services on Wednesday morning released new statistics outlining the number of COVID cases and deaths over the past week in Arizona.

Statewide, the ADHS reported 4,566 new cases since its previous update on March 16. This figure pushes Arizona close to a total of two million confirmed cases over the course of the pandemic. The agency also reported 336 new deaths from COVID, adding to the overall figure of 28,883 deaths from the illness over the past two years.

The COVID-19 vaccination rate in Pinal remains far below the national and state average. According to the ADHS data, only 55 percent of the county's residents have received at least one vaccine dose. Statewide, the vaccination rate has crept past 70 percent for the first time in the pandemic.

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Statewide COVID-19 data update for Wednesday, March 23.Arizona Department of Health Services

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COVID-19 data update for Pinal County, Arizona. Published Wednesday, March 23.Arizona Department of Health Services

A major development Tuesday is set to impact Arizonans for the remainder of the coronavirus crisis. Congressional leaders proved unable to green-light a new round of funding geared toward fighting COVID-19, which will have an immediate — and potentially-grave — domino effect on the state.

According to public health officials, vaccine and booster production slows down without more government-approved funding. A White House checklist claims the ability to identify and halt new COVID variants is curbed without fresh funds. The federal government will not have sufficient resources or purchasing power to acquire enough booster vaccine doses, particularly those that are variant-specific, for all Americans.

The government's inaction also produces a scenario wherein a possible fourth vaccine dose becomes difficult to produce, should another spike in cases occur as the weather heats up. Earlier this month, Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla said "it’s clear that there is a need in an environment of omicron to boost the immune response," effectively espousing another booster to keep sickness mild and hospitalizations under control.

In addition, without a new round of federal funding, free COVID testing comes to a halt for uninsured Americans.

In January, the White House and the United States Postal Service joined forces to launch covidtests.gov. The portal continues to offer Arizonans the option to order up to two sets of four COVID testing kits for free, but the kits can take a week or longer to arrive.

For those seeking faster results, Embry Health has emerged as Arizona's largest COVID testing provider. As funding expiration loomed last week, CEO Raymond Embry announced that the organization will pay out of pocket to cover the requisite testing expenses for the time being. Embry said it was important to ensure the uninsured can continue to receive a PCR, rapid, or antibody test if desired.

"Providing services without guaranteed payment from the federal government, Embry Health, Embry Laboratories, and the other laboratories we work with such as Sonora Quest, is taking decisive leadership steps to ensure we don't stop testing the uninsured. We are going to take the financial risk of continuing to provide this testing to parents, even the uninsured patients, while funding is sorted out in Washington," Embry said in quotes carried by FOX 10 last week.

Embry Health tweeted on Tuesday that it has opened a new testing site in Pinal County. Caliche Senior Living, located at 1640 North Peart Road in Casa Grande, offers PCR, rapid, and antibody tests on an appointment basis. The testing site in Pinal's largest city is open daily, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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Jeremy is a freelance journalist covering health, energy, labor, and local politics. Reach him at jeremy.beren@newsbreak.com.

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