Arizona hospital official: Avoid New Year’s gatherings amid omicron surge

The pandemic continues to strain hospitals statewide, so Arizonans should avoid large New Year’s gatherings even if masked and fully vaccinated, a top official of the state’s largest health care system said on Dec. 28.

"I know this is difficult," said Dr. Marjorie Bessel, chief clinical officer of Phoenix-based Banner Health. "We’ve been in this pandemic for two years."

Bessell said during a news briefing that crowded Banner hospitals continue to postpone some non-emergency surgeries and that their clinical workers are exhausted, with many having to forego their own holiday gatherings to care for patients.

"We remain very busy," Bessell said. "We continue to see a lot of patients come into our emergency departments. Our ICUs are very full at this time."

She said people should get vaccinations and booster shots, wear masks in indoor public settings and get tested and stay home if feeling sick.

"Right now we must do everything possible to mitigate omicron," Bessell said, referring to the fast-spreading virus variant.

Some Banner hospitals are at over 100% of capacity, but the surge of hospitalizations is not expected to peak until mid-January, Bessell said.

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The state’s coronavirus dashboard reported Tuesday that COVID-19-related hospitalizations inched upward early this week, with 2,344 virus patients occupying inpatient beds statewide as of Monday.

The dashboard also reported 1,976 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases, a fraction of the over 7,600 reported Monday following reporting delays over the holiday weekend.

Arizona on Tuesday also reported 162 virus deaths as the state’s pandemic totals increased to 1,364,669 cases and 24,144 deaths.

According to Johns Hopkins University data, Arizona’s seven-day rolling averages of daily new cases and daily deaths both rose over the past two weeks.

The rolling average of daily new cases rose from 3,57.7 on Dec. 12 to 3,387.3 on Sunday while the rolling average deaths rose from 64.4 to 77.3 during the same period.

MORE: Coronavirus in Arizona: Latest case numbers

At-home testing becoming popular

In Mesa on Dec. 28, a line of cars stretched down the road for free at home COVID-19 tests.

"None of the pharmacies around have any of the rapid tests, and so we were coming by, saw the signs. Thought we’d check it out," a person in line said. Another added, "Precautionary measure, we’re triple [vaccinated], but if we do see some the symptoms, we’d like to not expose everyone else to it and see if we have COVID or not."

Each car was limited to one test kit, and they were gone in about 24 minutes. The at-home tests aren’t included in statewide COVID-19 numbers.

Mesa Public Library locations will be handing out free at-home test kits and more information can be found here


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

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.

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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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