PHOENIX - The number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Arizona are declining despite the state having the worst infection rate in the country, health officials said Friday.
The number of patients and even the positivity test rate have dipped slightly in the last few weeks, according to Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services.
"We are starting to see a little bit of a plateau," Christ said.
It was the one bright spot of news as Arizona reached a grim milestone with a pandemic death toll of more than 12,000. That puts COVID-19 on track to eclipse heart disease and cancer as the leading cause of death in the state.
The Department of Health Services reported 8,099 additional known cases and 229 additional deaths, increasing the state’s pandemic totals to 708,041 cases and 12,001 deaths.
The current surge has crowded hospitals statewide, particularly after the winter holidays. But the numbers of additional reported cases and of people hospitalized for COVID-19 have dropped recently. Arizona was also a hot spot during last summer’s surge.
There were 4,495 COVID-19 patients occupying Arizona inpatient hospital beds as of Thursday, down from the pandemic record of 5,082 on Jan. 11, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.
One person in every 141 Arizona residents was diagnosed with COVID-19 over the past week.
The decrease in hospitalizations was enough for Arizona’s largest health system to partially resume elective surgeries Monday. Banner Health had postponed elective surgeries because of the overwhelming number of COVID-19 patients. Only surgeries that are outpatient, don’t require ICU care or warrant more than one night’s stay will be considered, said Dr. Marjorie Bessel, Banner’s chief clinical officer.
Bessel, however, cautioned against taking the downward trend as a sign to be complacent. She said it’s "incredibly important" that people continue to wear masks, socially distance and socialize only within their immediate circle. It could be 10-11 weeks until Banner hospitals get back to the workload before this winter surge.
"It is important to make sure that good news is also taken in the context that we still have uncontrolled spread within our communities here in Arizona," Bessel said during a virtual briefing with reporters. "We need more than one strategy to bring us down from this peak we just experienced."
Administrators of every major hospital system in the state have repeatedly called on Gov. Doug Ducey to enact more mitigation measures. The Republican governor has repeatedly rejected those calls, saying shutting down businesses will only put people out of work. He also argued that a statewide mask mandate wasn’t needed when most local jurisdictions already have one.
Arizona is ramping up its vaccination program by opening additional sites but, like other states, has had difficulty get enough doses to meet demand.
Pima County, for instance, has so far administered 59,000 doses of the vaccination and is expected to have a supply of about 77,000 doses next week. Still, Dr. Francisco Garcia, Pima County’s chief medical officer, said the county’s current supply is woefully inadequate for its population size.
"That continues to be the thing that I am losing sleep over, that we are all most concerned about," Garcia said.
Christ said mass vaccination sites like State Farm Stadium in Glendale and the Phoenix Municipal Stadium, opening Feb. 1, are not taking away vaccines from other areas. Vaccine allocation for each county is calculated based on the population of the various priority groups.
So far, more than 380,000 vaccines have been administered in Arizona. Next week, officials expect to receive a shipment of 733,350 doses out of 973,175 that were allocated. The state will also start sending vaccines to 400 sites that include pharmacies inside supermarket chains such as Fry’s and Albertson’s.
The number of COVID-19 infections is thought to be higher than reported because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
According to data from Johns Hopkins University and The COVID Tracking Project, the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Arizona declined over the past two weeks, dropping from 9,198 new cases per day on Jan. 7 to 7,271.7 new cases per day on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the state’s seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Arizona continued to increase, rising from 125.3 per day on Jan. 7 to 153 on Thursday.
In order to protect yourself from a possible infection, the CDC recommends:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- Monitor your health daily
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Arizona COVID-19 resources, FAQ: azdhs.gov/coronavirus
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Coronavirus in Arizona: Latest case numbers
Symptoms for coronavirus COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. These, of course, are similar to the common cold and flu.
Expect a common cold to start out with a sore or scratchy throat, cough, runny and/or stuffy nose. Flu symptoms are more intense and usually come on suddenly, and can include a high fever.
Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear more slowly. They usually include fever, a dry cough and noticeable shortness of breath, according to the World Health Organization. A minority of cases develop pneumonia, and the disease is especially worrisome for the elderly and those with other medical problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or heart conditions.
To protect yourself, wash your hands well and often, keep them away from your face, and avoid crowds and standing close to people.
And if you do find yourself showing any of these flu or coronavirus symptoms - don't go straight to your doctor's office. That just risks making more people sick, officials urge. Call ahead, and ask if you need to be seen and where.
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