Feds sending medical team to aid with COVID-19 in Arizona

PHOENIX (AP) — The federal government is sending medical personnel to Arizona to help with the ongoing COVID-19 surge.

The White House announced Tuesday that Arizona is one of a handful of states expected to receive additional resources this week.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is deploying ambulances to help in quickly taking patients from full hospitals to facilities with open beds. Twenty paramedics are heading to Arizona, according to a news release.

The state’s largest hospital systems have warned that they are under immense strain caring for patients with COVID-19 or who delayed care for other illnesses. With a shortage of nurses, they may have to ration care.

With the highly transmissible omicron variant now the dominant variant nationwide, there is fear that scenario isn’t far off. The University of Arizona announced Tuesday it had identified seven cases of omicron in the community. A university genetics lab detected the variant in samples from saline gargle tests. The school is now in the process of contact tracing.

Scientists don’t yet know whether omicron causes more serious disease, but they do know that vaccination should offer strong protections against severe illness and death.

Arizona reported 2,395 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and 223 more deaths Tuesday. The daily death toll hasn’t been that high since February. Hospitalizations for the virus statewide came in at 2,539.

The state’s pandemic totals now stand at 1,341,377 cases and 23,742 deaths.

Arizona’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases decreased over the past two weeks, going from 4,038.1 on Dec. 5 to 2,914.6 on Sunday. However, the seven-day rolling average of daily deaths increased in that same time frame from 51 to 68.

Gov. Doug Ducey tweeted on Dec. 21, emphasizing the importance of becoming vaccinated against COVID-19.

"The vaccine is the best tool we have to fight the pandemic," he said, adding that he's in agreement with Dr. Richard Carmona, a former U.S. Surgeon General who recently was named as a key COVID-19 advisor to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The governor teased a soon-to-be-released public service announcement, promoting the vaccine's booster shot.

Ducey calls Carmona an incredible source of information in helping Arizona fight the pandemic.

"Even some of the people who’ve been vaccinated already say, ‘I’ve got two already, I don’t need the 3rd.’ So there’s a lot of misinformation out there. The governor and I spoke about that today and he asked me specifically, ‘How do we overcome this misinformation? How do we get everybody to see this is good science, and it’s not only protecting themselves, it’s helping to protect our community?’" Carmona said of his conversation with Ducey.

He said Christmas plans don’t have to be canceled, but asked people to continue to take precautions, like mask-wearing and continually getting tested.

"The reason you want to be tested frequently is because you could be carrying. 40% to 50% of people could carry the virus and be asymptomatic. So wouldn’t you want to know that a brother, sister, friend in your circle turned positive? Then they can isolate themselves for a week, 10 days and come back in, but at least during that time they’re not spreading the disease," Carmona said.

Communities around the state had been giving out free at-home COVID-19 tests through libraries and community centers this week, but many ran out in a matter of hours.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

MORE: Coronavirus in Arizona: Latest case numbers

MORE: Find COVID-19 vaccine locations in your area


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