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Stop most coronavirus testing, Arizona's top health official tells doctors

Dr. Cara Christ says shortages of tests and protective gear will continue. The latest news is part of a troubling 24 hours in the fight against the virus.

PHOENIX — In the last 24 hours, Arizonans have been confronted by troubling new information about the state's fight against the coronavirus:

Coronavirus 'widespread': The state's top public health officials declared Thursday that the virus is now "widespread" in the state. 

There are 508 diagnosed cases, in 13 of the state's 15 counties. The two other counties – Gila and Greenlee – haven't reported any cases.

"Expect that COVID-19 is circulating in your community," Dr. Cara Christ, the state's director of health services, said in a news release.

"Protecting those at highest risk of complications and ensuring that our healthcare system is prepared to deal with a surge in cases is our highest priority. It is imperative that everyone takes precautions to protect themselves and their family from this disease."  

Public health experts have warned that cases would "skyrocket" as more tests were done.

(But we're now learning that testing has been scant. Read on ...)

Peak still 2 months away: Christ revealed Wednesday that Arizona is still two-months away from the coronavirus peak. 

"We believe that the peak of our illnesses will start mid- to end of April, with peak hospitalizations in May," Christ told reporters. 

Former state health services director Will Humble said the state model was "probably pretty close to on target."

It's tough news for the tens of thousands of people who've lost their jobs over the last several days and the countless people hanging on to a job at a business that's struggling to stay afloat.

For parents, the timeline likely means Arizona schools will remain shut for the rest of the school year.

RELATED: Coronavirus cases expected to peak in April, Arizona health director says

State 'discourages' tests:  President Trump has said, "Anyone who wants a test can get a test." That's never been true in Arizona; it's even less true now. 

In a letter to primary care providers, Christ said: "Discourage testing for most patients ... This is an important change ... There are not enough available supplies."

Lack of testing limits public health experts' visibility of the spread of the coronavirus. It also limits doctors' ability to treat patients, Humble said.

"The direction the physician gives the patient is different when they have a definitive diagnosis," he said.

Sliver of population tested: New data from all Arizona labs shows tests have been done on just 0.14% of Arizonans 18 or older.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, the state health lab and commercial labs have done 7,953 tests. A total of 508 were positive – about six in every 100 people tested.

Make your own gear: The dangerous shortfall of protective gear for health care workers – masks, gloves, gowns and more – will continue. Christ's message: Get used to it.

"Current expectations for resupply are low," she wrote. "There are shortages, and we need to move towards reuse, extended use, and alternative sources."

RELATED: With shortages of protective equipment due to COVID-19, medical students feeling the impacts

Maricopa 'on same page': I asked the Maricopa County Public Health Department to comment on Christ's remarks. 

The county – the fourth-largest in the country – is home to three of every five coronavirus cases in Arizona. 

The response: The county is on the same page as state health officials.

RELATED: Here’s how to help Arizona hospitals during the coronavirus outbreak

MORE: Coronavirus live updates: US leads world in confirmed cases

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