Rising COVID-19 numbers show a 'pandemic among the unvaccinated,' Arizona health experts say

The state’s top health official, along with other health experts, say they are concerned over the rise in COVID-19 cases in Arizona, with some even calling it "pandemic among the unvaccinated."

"We are definitely seeing signs in Arizona of another wave," said Dr. Joshua LaBaer with the ASU Biodesign Institute.

The number of new cases has nearly quadrupled in the last four weeks in Arizona, and the vast majority of those who’ve gotten the virus recently are not vaccinated. 

The seven-day rolling average was just about 500 to 700 cases back in the start of July. Now, Arizona is setting an average of 1,000 cases a day.

"We are definitely seeing breakthroughs. That is to say people with the vaccine are getting infected," said Dr. LaBaer. "We are also seeing people who were previously infected with COVID getting re infected with the variant."

Dr, LaBaer says the reason for the recent surge is the low vaccination rate in Arizona. In addition, people are staying indoors due to hot summer temperatures, thus increasing the risk of transmission.

Despite signs of a surge, experts predict the new surge won't be as bad as what the state has previously seen

"Because a lot of the population has been vaccinated, there is less likelihood of overwhelming the medical system as we saw in earlier waves. There is plenty of beds in hospitals," said Dr. LaBaer.

Health experts urge people to get vaccinated, avoid crowded events

Hospitals and health officials in the state are urging people to take precautions against the COVID-19 Delta variant as the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to rise.

Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS) says, "We may see a continued surge in cases."

State health officials are strongly recommending vaccination and mask-wearing while indoors, but unlike in other states, there are no mandates in Arizona.

"We’re dealing with a pandemic in the unvaccinated is absolutely true. That’s where our serious cases are, that’s where the risk is still going to be," says Dr. David Engelthaler, Director of TGen's infectious disease division.

Experts say young children typically don’t spread the Delta variant,  and it’s not the elderly that are getting sick either.

"The highest risk groups are really well vaccinated so we’ve taken them off the table. So most of the virus is spreading now is in that 18-24 year old group and that’s our college-age group," Engelthaler said.

In contrast, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has recently enacted laws prohibiting schools from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine or masks, even going so far as to sending letters of reprimand to districts that implemented quarantine measures.

"I think that there is a disconnect for some of the laws. So schools cannot mandate, they have to make masks optional, again that’s going to be up to families on whether or not to have their children wear masks," Christ says, adding, "When you look at quarantining only unvaccinated children, that potentially conflicts with the law. But we wouldn’t look at just quarantining unvaccinated children, you would also look at vaccinated children, we know we have breakthrough cases."

"If you're not vaccinated and you get this virus, one in five chances of getting hospitalized and two-percent chance of dying," said Dr. LaBaer.

Health experts say people should also avoid crowded events.

"This is not a time to participate in crowded events. I would avoid crowds right now and if you're in a crowded situation, I would be wearing a mask," said Dr. LaBaer.

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