Arizona continues string of record COVID-19 hospitalizations

Arizonans need to "shrink their circles" of personal contacts and gatherings to help the state’s health care system from being overrun by the state’s current surge of COVID-19 cases, a senior official of the state’s major hospital chain says.

State and local governments also need to do more to reduce the coronavirus’ spread, the effect of which have forced one of Banner Health’s hospitals to start using a refrigerated truck trailer to augment its now-full morgue, said Dr. Marjorie Bessel, the Phoenix-based hospital chain’s chief clinical officer.

"When health care systems become overrun, all care is jeopardized," Bessel said during a Friday briefing. "When health care systems become overrun, patients will not get the same timely delivery of care. When health care systems become overrun, patients will suffer higher death rates. This could mean the car accident victim, the heart attack victim, the stroke patient, or the child with a severe asthma attack."

Arizona on Dec. 19 reported another record number of COVID-19 related hospitalizations along with over 5,500 new confirmed infections and a fourth straight day of triple-digit deaths because of the state’s current coronavirus surge.

The Department of Health Services reported 5,560 additional known cases and 118 additional deaths, increasing the statewide totals to 448,231 cases and 7,937 deaths.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher than reported because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

The state’s 4,104 COVID-19-related hospitalizations reported as of Friday was the latest in a string of pandemic-high hospitalizations reported starting earlier this month. The previous pandemic hospitalization record was 3,517 on July 13 during Arizona’s summer surge.

According to the state’s coronavirus dashboard, only 8% of all hospital beds and of ICU beds were available and not in use.

Bessel said Banner was adding staff and beds to cope with the outbreak, which she said has seen ICU occupancy rise from 75% of peak winter capacity at the start of November to 150% now. During that same period, COVID-19 patients’ use of all ICU beds went from 25% use to 55%, she said.

"In addition to more mitigation and enforcement, we need all of you to shrink your circles to include only those you live with and have regular close contact with. When you are with others outside of your circle, we need you to mask up at all times," Bessel said. "Please adjust your holiday plans to not include travel or gathering with others who are outside of your household."

"These actions are absolutely necessary," she added.

While Banner has taken steps authorized by state regulators to increase capacity during the pandemic, the state crisis plan’s provision to guide clinical decisions on providing care to patients when the system is overloaded and short of staff and critical equipment hasn’t been activated. Bessel said.

"We sincerely hope to not get there. We want to continue to provide care to all those who need it. And we are doing everything within our power to prevent a triage situation." she said.

However, patients can expect delays in waiting to be seen, and elective surgeries are being delayed in some areas, she said.

"These are the types of ripple effects that we can expect and also the type of ripple effect that we can expect to continue to get worse as the surge descends upon us," Bessel said.

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