MESA, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona National Guard stepped up its efforts to bolster the supply of food Thursday as a few dozen soldiers packed boxes at food banks seeing a surge in demand and others prepared to move goods between warehouses and grocery stores.

Thursday’s food bank missions in Mesa and Tucson were among the first since Gov. Doug Ducey activated the Guard last week in response to the coronavirus outbreak. They come as state health officials said there is now widespread community spread of the virus from person to person.

For now, the Guard has about 750 members activated, and its mission is limited to assisting grocery stores and food banks. But Ducey last week said he may need to activate as many as 5,500 guardsmen for missions such as building hospitals, organizing a medical corps or assisting law enforcement.

The number of coronavirus cases in Arizona rose to 508 with eight dead, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported.

Among the state’s positive tests is an employee of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.

More than half of the coronavirus deaths have been in Maricopa County. All but two eastern counties — Gila and Greenlee — now have cases and are subject to business restrictions imposed by Ducey.

Counties with known cases of COVID-19 are subject to a state order to close bars, indoor gyms and certain other businesses and to allow restaurants to provide only takeout and pickup service. 

The Navajo Nation has reported 71 cases in Arizona and New Mexico, up 20 from a day earlier.

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