Arizona officials urge Thanksgiving caution as virus cases soar

Arizona hospital officials pleaded on Nov. 24 for people to avoid large Thanksgiving dinners as soaring coronavirus infections put pressure on the state’s medical system.

Banner Health, Arizona’s largest hospital chain, forecasts it will hit 125 percent of its licensed capacity around Dec. 4.

There are enough drugs, beds, ventilators and protective gear to care for that many patients, but not enough staff, said Dr. Marjorie Bessel, the system’s chief clinical officer.

“Every single time you go outside of your circle of people that you live with you are increasing your risk of either catching COVID or potentially spreading COVID,” Bessel said, urging people to limit their Thanksgiving dinners to those in their own homes or keep gatherings as small and short as possible.

Coronavirus in Arizona: Latest case numbers

Banner and other hospital groups are scrambling to bolster staff by hiring traveling nurses, training existing staff to work in intensive care units, bringing back recent retirees or scheduling trained administrators for shifts caring for patients. But they face stiff competition for available help as nearly the entire country experiences rising COVID-19 infections.

Gov. Doug Ducey said guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid Thanksgiving travel is “wise advice.” He urged people who do travel to “demonstrate common sense” by wearing a mask, maintaining distance and washing hands. Outdoor gatherings are safer, he added.


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The Arizona Department of Health Services reported 4,544 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 51 new deaths, bringing the state’s totals to nearly 307,000 cases and 6,515 deaths. Tuesday was the fourth time in six days that Arizona reported more than 4,000 new infections.

The state’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has doubled in the past two weeks to 3,630, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project.

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

COVID-19-related hospitalizations continued to increase, reaching 2,084 as of Monday, including 474 patients in intensive-care beds. Eleven percent of Arizona’s ICU beds were vacant, compared to 26% available on Sept. 26.

At Valleywise Health, Maricopa County’s public safety net hospital, six of the 36 ICU beds were unstaffed and 90 percent of the rest were in use, said Dr. Michael White, chief clinical officer. That’s higher than Valleywise experiences during a typical winter, the busy season for Arizona hospitals, White said.

“I certainly think we are at a tipping point here within the state of Arizona, where we likely could see a marked increase in the number of cases,” White said. “I think all of us within health care delivery are worried at this point.”

As patient counts increase, hospitals may have to cancel non-emergency surgeries, as they did during the early months of the pandemic when protective equipment was in short supply.

The current surge is especially acute in southern Arizona, where Pima County asked people to adhere to a voluntary curfew starting at 10 p.m. through the end of the year.


Virus cases lead to voluntary curfew in Pima County

Health officials in an Arizona county want residents to observe a 10 p.m. curfew to discourage people from going to parties, bars and other social settings that are risky for the spread of the coronavirus.

Tucson Unified School District Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo on Tuesday suspended football practice and games. He also canceled winter sports practices and after-school rehearsals for performing arts until at least Dec. 7. Trujillo said he made the decision at the recommendation of Pima County county administrators and public health officials.

“Please know that Tucson Unified is not the only district to take this action as all southern Arizona school districts have also canceled the remainder of their respective game schedules which leaves our schools without opponents to play,” Trujillo said in a statement.

Phoenix officials said numerous steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will be in effect next weekend when the city hosts a youth soccer tournament involving 500 teams, including 460 from outside Arizona, at two city sports complexes.

Spectators, officials, coaches and athletes not playing on the field at the Desert Super Cup Thanksgiving 2020 tournament sponsored by Rated Sports Group LP must wear masks and people not abiding by requirements will be asked to leave the event, a city staff memo said.

The Phoenix City Council last September approved a plan to reopen city sports fields and other recreation facilities under federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Mayor Kate Gallego said the council will reconsider its park rules and other public health measures at its next meeting on Dec. 2.


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MAP: Arizona Coronavirus cases by zip code