Santa Cruz County failed to meet state benchmarks on two key COVID-19 metrics for a second-straight week, according to data posted Thursday by the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The numbers, which lag by nearly two weeks, showed that the positive test rate in the county was 11.7 percent for the week of Nov. 1-7. That surpassed the 10-percent threshold for “moderate” transmission and put the county in the “substantial” category.

During the previous week, the local positive test rate was 11.9 percent, which came on the heels of a seven-week period in which rates fluctuated between 1.8 percent and 7.1 percent.

In addition, the data released Thursday showed that Santa Cruz County registered 184 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents during the week of Nov. 1-7, up from 164 new cases per 100,000 people during the previous week.

Those numbers put the county firmly in the “substantial” transmission category for that benchmark as well. The threshold for “moderate” transmission is 100 new cases per 100,000 residents.

A third benchmark lumps Santa Cruz County together with counties including Cochise, Graham, Greenlee and Pima to calculate the percentage of hospital visits in the region that were for COVID-like illness. The region remained in the “minimal” transmission category on that benchmark, with a rate of 3.6 percent.

The state benchmarks have been used to manage the re-opening of certain businesses, as well as serve as guidelines for schools to offer hybrid or full in-person learning. After the benchmarks were released last week that put Santa Cruz County in the “substantial” transmission category, the Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District and Little Red School each called off their hybrid learning programs. The only public schools that continued to offer on-campus instruction at that point were in eastern areas of the county, where the number of infections has been low.

But while businesses such as theaters, gyms and bars that offer restaurant-type service had to wait for the local benchmarks to drop to “moderate” levels before they could re-open, it appears they won’t have to close now that the county is missing the marks.

Gov. Doug Ducey refused Wednesday to impose new statewide restrictions or mandates even as his own health chief warned of an increasing number of Arizonans becoming infected with COVID-19, Capitol Media Services reported.

Speaking at a news conference, the governor “dismissed the idea of a statewide requirement for people to wear masks while outdoors, calling it unnecessary given various local ordinances,” the Capitol Media Services report said, adding: “Nor did he clamp down on existing occupancy limits at bars, restaurants, gyms or movie theaters or seek to curb their hours of operation.”

Speaking during a forum sponsored Thursday by the local chamber of commerce, Jeff Terrell, Santa Cruz County’s director of health services, pointed to the governor rather than the benchmarks as the determinant for whether local businesses might have to close.

But if all three benchmarks are surpassed, Terrell said, “that’s when we start working together with … businesses on better strategies,” including reducing occupancy limits “to help keep businesses operating.”

Numbers from Terrell’s office, which are more up-to-date than those released by the state as part of the benchmark reports, showed 3,433 total confirmed COVID-19 infections in Santa Cruz County as of Thursday. That was a weekly increase of 225 cases.

The number of COVID-related deaths increased by one since the previous Thursday, and there were 15 new hospitalizations of local residents.

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