Coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths increase in Arizona; experts say omicron behind latest surge

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Arizona increased for the fourth straight day as the state’s seven-day rolling averages for virus cases and deaths both increased over the past two weeks.

There were 2,555 COVID-19 patients occupying hospital inpatient beds statewide as of Tuesday, up from 2,283 on Saturday, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.

The dashboard on Wednesday reported 61 additional COVID-19 deaths and 7,749 additional confirmed cases, increasing the state’s pandemic totals to 24,570 deaths and 1,419,562 cases.

The state’s rolling average of daily deaths rose from 71.3 on Dec. 20 to 75.3 on Monday while the rolling average of daily new cases more than doubled from 2,947 to 7,017.1 during the same period, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Arizona has the fourth-highest COVID-19 death rate among U.S. states, with 334 deaths per 100,000 of population, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Omicron variant now dominant; demand for testing soars

According to officials with the Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute, the fast-spreading omicron variant is now the dominant COVID-19 variant in Arizona, accounting for over 90% of the cases seen in Arizona.

The omicron-fueled wave is pushing many people to get tested for COVID-19. Many are still on the hunt for at-home CoVID-19 tests, as drug stores and pharmacies struggle to keep those tests on their shelves.

Amid the current surge, some experts say the focus should instead be onm COVID-19 hospital admissions.

"The increase in overall cases gives you an idea of transmissibility: right how, much this thing can spread. Hospitalizations talk about severity. The more data we have can create a better picture on how the best way to stop the spread and kind of move on with things," said Dr. Ross Goldberg with Valleywise Health.

Currently, state statistics actually show a decrease in hospitalizations when compared to November. Dr, Goldberg said while their hospitals are busy, they are not near capacity yet.

Meanwhile, as the surge continues, many people are lining up at testing sites.

"Whenever we set up testing slots, they get booked up within seconds," said Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, Medical Director of One Medical.

However, lining up might be a good thing in this case, at least in places where PCR tests are available.

"A PCR test measures presence of genetic material and the RNA of itself," said Joshua LaBaer. "Without a doubt, the PCR test is the most accurate test we have. It is also the most sensitive test we have."

In contrast, antigen tests can be taken at home. The results are quick, but not as accurate.

"We know of many people testing negative by antigen test who tested positive by PCR," said LaBaer.

At-home testing: Making sure it is done properly

Dr. Bhuyan said at-home tests can be handy, as they are quick and gives people peace of mind in a matter of minutes.

However, people will need to conduct the tests correctly in order to get the best results.

"I think the number one thing is knowing when to test," said Dr. Bhuyan. "So you want to test after an exposure, but really, it's best to test five days after an exposure, and then you should test if you have any new symptoms."

Dr. Bhuyan also said it is best to read through the test instructions a few times.

"When you do a rapid test at home, make sure you have the right technique," said Dr. Bhuyan. "Holding the swab firmly in the center, making sure you're going half an inch into the nose, five long swabs around the nose. It shoud take about 15 seconds, and then making sure you do both sides of the nose - some people only do one nostril or the other - and making sure you're following the directions of the manufacturer for that kit."

Dr. Bhuyan said people should stay home if they get a negative result, but are still symptomatic. It could mean they have a false negative, or have the flu or the cold, both of which are also very contagious.

City of Phoenix votes to expand testing, vaccination services

On Jan. 5, members of the Phoenix City Council passed, in an 8-0 vote, to expand testing and vaccine services for the coming six months.

Through the American Rescue Plan Act, the city will be able to put $4.9 million into the project. Of the $4.9 million, $3.5 million will go towards expanding current testing and vaccine efforts, while $1.4 million will go towards the purchase of new at-home-test kits that will be handed out on a first come, first served basis.

Each household is eligible for two testing kits.

"We can go to your school, your office and provide testing and vaccination. We are trying to be data driven about where we have the greatest need," said Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego.

AZDHS: Clear evidence that vaccines, boosters save lives

A new report from the Arizona Dept. of Health Services suggests that unvaccinated people are 31 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than unvaccinated people.

This is a significant change from October's report, when Arizona health officials said the unvaccinated were 15.2 times more likely to die from the virus.

The November report also suggested that unvaccinated people were 4.9 times more likely than the vaccinated to catch coronavirus.

"This shift has to do with a change in methodology to better capture fully vaccinated individuals and may also be impacted by booster uptake," ADHS Interim Director Don Herrington said in a blog post. "In the latest twice-monthly report posted atop our COVID-19 Data Dashboard, you’ll see bigger gaps on the cases graphs for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals – both overall and by age groups."

Specific numbers detailing statistics for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals were not released. Current data on the Arizona Dept. of Health Services dashboard does not differentiate between the two groups.

Dr. Goldberg, meanwhile, said 97% of their patients are not full vaccinated.

"We really need everyone's help in helping us out, so we can go back to doing what we're doing before, take care of everyone else and not worrying so much about COVID," said Dr. Goldberg.

MORE: Coronavirus in Arizona: Latest case numbers


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

CDC: How coronavirus spreads, symptoms, prevention, treatment, FAQ

Arizona COVID-19 resources, FAQ:

Phoenix COVID-19 Testing and Select Vaccination Events:

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.

RELATED: Is it the flu, a cold or COVID-19? Different viruses present similar symptoms

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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