Ak-Chin Pavilion

ASU launches its saliva test July 11 at Ak-Chin Pavilion, a few miles south of Glendale. (Glendale Star photo by Pablo Robles)

After another dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases in the West Valley 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.

Restaurants like Oregano’s in Glendale near Peoria say they have reduced seating with extra safety measures. “We are only seating select tables throughout the restaurant to ensure our guests maintain safe distancing at all times,” Oregano’s website states.

“With the social distancing we were pretty close to (50% capacity) anyways,” said Sam Billelo, owner of Goodyear restaurants Bella Luna and Sal’s Tuscan Grill.

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

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

That tool showed 1,871 cases in Glendale 85301 July 14, with 2,233 cases in neighboring West Phoenix 85033.

Maryvale 85035 had 2,045 COVID-19 cases July 14.

Litchfield Park 85340 had 483 positive cases with 586 cases in neighboring 85395.

Glendale 85303 went over 1,000 cases, with 1,094. Peoria-Sun City 85345 had 1,241 cases with 443 in Peoria 85381 and 613 cases in Peoria 85382.

Positive test results around the West Valley may increase dramatically this week, with Ducey’s emphasis on expanding testing — including the new saliva test that is billed as less intrusive than the nasal swabs.

“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.

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.

“It is very scary out here,” Gallego said. “The Abrazo health care system has run out of morgue beds.”

Abrazo has hospitals around the Valley, including Abrazo West in Goodyear and Abrazo Arrowhead in Glendale/Peoria.

But, according to Abrazo spokesman Keith Jones, “Abrazo hospitals currently have adequate morgue space. 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 14, the county COVID-19 death total was 1,171. Over the first two weeks of July, the county reported 437 COVID-19 deaths — meaning 37% 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. After a few days where low numbers looked promising, the July 14 Maricopa County daily COVID-19 report shows 2,789 new cases, 84 new hospitalizations for COVID-19 and 70 deaths from the disease.

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.

“The best thing you can do is wear a mask. Make sure people know the virus is widespread and by personal decisions you can avoid contracting it.

“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.”