More than 17,000 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Arizona, setting a record high

Arizona health officials reported a big jump in coronavirus pandemic numbers on Jan. 3, including a record daily high of more than 17,200 new confirmed cases, but no new deaths. These added cases bring the state's total to 556,384 cases and 9,061 deaths.

Just 7% of hospital beds were available statewide and 61% of intensive care unit beds were occupied by 1,081 patients fighting the virus, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The cases added on Friday and Saturday had produced a two-day total of 18,943, breaking the state's previous two-day high earlier in December. Sunday's case increase has approached that number in a single day.

The single-day total of 17,234 new confirmed cases topped the previous daily record of 12,314 set Dec. 8.

The statewide overall tally of known cases since the pandemic began was 556,384. The death toll stands at 9,061.

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

Coronavirus in Arizona: Latest case numbers

Arizona had the second-worst COVID-19 diagnosis rate over the past week, behind only California. The diagnosis rate is calculating by dividing the state’s population by the number of new cases over the past week.

Hospital occupancy has surged during December due to the outbreak, and hospitals statewide remain nearly full, with only 7% of all inpatient beds available and not in use, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.

"If the numbers like today continue on, if 17,000 becomes a new normal for us, then it will be life and death decisions that will be made in the hospitals," said Will Humble with the Arizona Public Health Association.

Of the 17,000 cases reported from Dec. 27 to Dec. 28, Humble says 7 to 10% will need to be hospitalized in a week to ten days.

There were 4,557 hospitalized COVID-19 patients as of Saturday, approaching the pandemic-high record of 4,564 on Wednesday, according to the dashboard.

COVID-19 patients were in three of every five intensive care beds statewide and about half of all hospital inpatient beds.

The crush of COVID-19 patients has caused some hospitals in metro Phoenix and Tucson areas to suspend elective surgeries and some have resorted to turning away patients being transported by ambulance or being transferred from other hospitals while still accepting walk-patients needing emergency care.

Hospital officials also have said the crush of COVID-19 patients may force imposition of triage protocols that the state could order to help hospitals decide how to decide which patients gets access to limited resources.

Many schools are set to resume classes in the coming week after the winter holidays.

Arizona State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman has urged state officials to order a return to distanced learning in schools to keep students and staff safe from the surge.

"A two-week return to distance learning is needed to ensure safety and avoid further burdening our strained healthcare system during this surge of cases," Hoffman tweeted.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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