- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 14, 2020

PHOENIX (AP) - Health officials plan to boost Arizona’s coronavirus testing with free screenings in two low-income Phoenix neighborhoods as the state tries to tamp down on rapid growth in infections, state officials said Tuesday.

Arizona has by far the nation’s highest rate of positive coronavirus tests, with more than one in four tests detecting the virus, an indication the state doesn’t have enough testing available.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will test up to 5,000 people per day beginning Friday in South Phoenix and in Maryvale on the city’s west side. Both are areas where people have reported hours-long waits in the scorching heat for tests. The surge in testing is scheduled to last 12 days.

The Department of Health Services says test results will be available through an online portal within 48 hours after the specimen arrives at the lab. The specimens will be shipped overnight to an out-of-state lab for processing, said Daniel Ruiz, chief operating officer for Gov. Doug Ducey’s office.

That’s a significant boost in speed at a time when many in Arizona are reporting waits of more than a week to get their results. Sonora Quest, which is processing most of Arizona’s tests, says its taking 11 days to report results.

The testing surge comes following pleas on national television by Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, who said she was initially told the federal government was ending its mass testing efforts in other cities and didn’t plan to set one up in Phoenix.

Arizona on Tuesday tallied thousands more confirmed COVID-19 cases as the state again reported an all-time high in hospitalizations because of the disease.

The state Department of Health of Services said the 4,273 additional cases increased the statewide total to 128,097. However, the number of cases could be far higher because many people have not been tested, and some can be infected without feeling sick.

Arizona once again reported record numbers of hospital beds, intensive care beds and ventilators in use. Just over 3,500 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, about a quarter of them in intensive care. The state reported 92 additional deaths, bringing a slight dip in the seven-day moving average from 62 daily deaths to 59.

Arizona’s death toll from COVID-19 rose to 2,337.

Despite initial concerns the virus would devastate the homeless community in Arizona’s Maricopa County, county officials say just 119 people have tested positive for COVID-19, and one died as of July 9. National experts on homelessness credit infection rates lower than those in the general population to early efforts like keeping shelters clean and ensuring people at them stayed socially distanced.

Arizona became a national coronavirus hot spot after Ducey in May relaxed stay-at-home orders and other restrictions. Ducey since has closed gyms and bars and limited restaurants’ capacity. Many local governments have imposed masking requirements.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death.

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