Arizona health expert says to use caution this holiday season amid COVID-19 surge: 'We are all responsible'

COVID-19 cases continue to surge across the country, including in Arizona, and health experts are afraid the worst is yet to come.

Peak numbers are expected to hit Arizona with winter and the holidays fast approaching.

"All of it is concerning. I can tell you the numbers look disturbingly similar to this time last year when we saw a rapid surge in cases," explains Dr. Ross Goldberg with Valleywise Health.

He says this is due, in part, to the continued spread of the delta variant along with a rise in omicron cases.

"Delta is still our primary concern right now that we see in this country," he said. "You are seeing a rapid increase in cases of this variant. We are finding the transmission rate is faster."

The rise in cases is putting even more of a strain on already struggling hospital staffing numbers. 

According to the Maricopa County Department of Health, it's taking steps to relieve the pressure with more than 6,000 members of the Medical Reserve Corps of Engineer volunteers, helping to fill in amid a nursing shortage.

Goldberg says all this doesn't necessarily mean that you have to cancel holiday plans.

"There's no reason why you can't have certain things. Maybe not the large gatherings. We would recommend everyone you know if vaccinated. That can be good. I don't want to say let's cancel everything," Goldberg says.

Whatever you do this holiday season, vaccinated or not, Goldberg still advises caution.

"We're all going on asking people to please do their part. This is all of us, all hands on deck, we are all responsible for one another," Goldberg said. "I think that's what we need to remember."

As of Dec. 18, Arizona has seen more than 1,300,000 reported COVID-19 cases, and over 23,500 people have died.

‘This is avoidable,' health care expert says

With the recent news about the omicron variant, statistics show vaccine distributions are ramping up again. So far, more than 3.9 million Arizonans are fully vaccinated, which is about 68% of the eligible population.

Health officials say the vaccine is working as most of the people being admitted to hospitals right now are not vaccinated.

"What we are seeing in our hospitals right now are those with COVID who are hospitalized, 80-90% of them are unvaccinated," said Brittney Kaufmann, CEO of the Health System Alliance of Arizona.

Despite the number of those vaccinated, nationwide, sporting events, concerts, plays, and even schools are closing their doors once again out of precaution as cases start to rise.

The Health System Alliance of Arizona and member hospitals issued a statewide message this week, urging Arizonans to do everything they can to try and slow the spread of COVID-19.

"This is avoidable. We have the means and the vaccines to avoid the number of illnesses and the number of deaths," Kaufmann said.

Some Phoenix-area hospitals are now forced to pause non-emergency surgeries as emergency rooms fill up.

"What’s different about this surge, as well, is we are low on staffing. Two years into the pandemic and our healthcare workforce is tired. They’re exhausted," Kaufmann said.

How to sign up and schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment

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