Arizona reported more than 1,200 new COVID-19 cases and three new known deaths on Sunday as the number of patients with suspected or known COVID-19 in intensive care units across Arizona reached a record high.
The state data dashboard shows 90% of all ICU beds and 89% of all inpatient beds in Arizona were in use Saturday, with 56% of ICU beds and 49% of non-ICU beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. Statewide, there were 177 ICU beds and 922 non-ICU beds available.
The number of patients hospitalized statewide for known or suspected COVID-19 cases was at 4,190 on Saturday, up from Friday’s 4,165 but less than Thursday’s record-setting 4,226. By comparison, the highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in a single day during the summer surge was 3,517 on July 13.
Arizona’s seven-day new-case average ranks fourth-highest in the nation. Only California, Tennessee and Oklahoma have higher rates over the past week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker.
The pandemic is worsening both statewide and nationally, and public health experts expect the virus to spread further during the holidays.
A report released Nov. 19 by Arizona State University predicted that hospital capacity in Arizona will be exceeded in December and that, without additional public health measures, holiday gatherings are likely to cause 600 to 1,200 additional deaths from COVID-19 in Arizona by Feb. 1 beyond current-scenario death projections.
Sunday’s 1,296 new cases brought the total number of identified COVID-19 cases in the state to 494,337. As of Sunday, 8,427 Arizonans are known to have died from the disease, according to the data dashboard from the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Gov. Doug Ducey’s recent strategies to address the COVID-19 surge have stopped short of what medical providers and public health leaders have advised to curb hospitalizations and deaths. As hospitals face a crisis because of the increasing number of COVID-19 patients, most Arizonans have fewer restrictions on their day-to-day lives than they did during the first wave of the illness.
Leaders of six major medical and public health groups in Arizona earlier this month asked Ducey to take more aggressive action against the spread of COVID-19, including banning indoor dining, limiting public gatherings to no more than 25 people and implementing a statewide and enforceable mask mandate.
A team of University of Arizona researchers wrote in a memo to the state Department of Health Services that a statewide shelter-in-place order in December could help avert a “catastrophe” in Arizona hospitals. The modelers said without additional public health interventions, Arizona “risks a catastrophe on a scale of the worst natural disaster the state has ever experienced. It would be akin to facing a major forest fire without evacuation orders.”
Dr. Marjorie Bessel, chief clinical officer for Phoenix-based Banner Health, said that the state’s largest health care system already is having two patients share rooms in several of its ICUs, and could reach 150% of its licensed bed capacity in January.
New cases have eclipsed 2,000 for 30 of the past 32 days, with 26 of those days seeing more than 4,000 new cases. Arizona and the U.S. have been reporting record-high daily new cases of late.
While Arizona’s new-case rate continues to rise, California was the nation’s worst hot spot, with the seven-day average rate of 100.5 per 100,000 people as of Saturday, according to the CDC’s numbers. By comparison, Arizona’s rate was 86.9 and the national average was 57.6.
The number of patients with suspected or known COVID-19 in intensive care units across Arizona was at 988 on Saturday, a new record. During the summer surge in mid-July, ICU beds in use for COVID-19 peaked at 970.
The number of Arizonans with confirmed and suspected COVID-19 on ventilators was at 667 on Saturday, up from Friday’s 652. It was the second most ventilators in use for COVID-19 since the single-day record July 16 of 687 patients.
Arizona hospital officials are worried about finding enough staff — not PPE or beds — to treat a surge of new COVID-19 patients, as hospitals compete for contract labor in the midst of a pandemic that is gripping the entire country. Ducey has allocated $85 million in COVID-19 relief funding since mid-November to bolster hospital staffing.
Percent positivity, which refers to the percent of COVID-19 diagnostic tests that are positive, has generally gone up, which many health experts consider an early indicator of a spike in illnesses.
Arizona’s positivity rate also continues to rise. In the current week, it stands at 22%. For the two full weeks prior to that, it was 18%, according to the state, which has a unique way of calculating percent positivity. Percent positivity was at 4% for several weeks during August, September and October, according to state data.
Johns Hopkins University calculates Arizona’s seven-day moving average of percent positives at 13.6% as of Sunday. It shows the state’s percent positivity peaked at 24.2% earlier this month but may now be generally declining.
A positivity rate of 5% is considered a good benchmark that the spread of the disease is under control.
Arizona began its first COVID-19 vaccinations for Phase 1A the week of Dec. 14. Health care workers, first responders, residents of long-term care facilities and other vulnerable populations will be prioritized in early phases, as will teachers, according to Ducey. He said the vaccine will be free for anyone who needs it once it’s more widely available.
What to know about Saturday’s numbers
Reported cases in Arizona: 494,337.
Cases increased by 1,296, or 0.26%, from Saturday’s 493,041 identified cases since the outbreak began. These daily cases are grouped by the date they are reported to the Arizona Department of Health Services, not by the date the tests were administered.
Cases by county: 302,707 in Maricopa; 65,915 in Pima; 26,586 in Yuma; 26,242 in Pinal; 11,351 in Mohave; 10,886 in Navajo; 10,777 in Coconino; 10,740 in Yavapai; 7,192 in Apache; 7,052 in Cochise; 5,779 in Santa Cruz; 4,295 in Gila; 3,109 in Graham; 1,327 in La Paz; and 379 in Greenlee, according to state numbers.
The rate of cases per 100,000 people is highest in Yuma County, followed by Santa Cruz, Apache and Navajo counties. The rate in Yuma County is 11,561 cases per 100,000 people. By comparison, the U.S. average rate as of Saturday was 5,642 cases per 100,000 people, according to the CDC.
The Navajo Nation reported 22,155 cases and 767 confirmed deaths in total as of Saturday. The Navajo Nation includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. Tribal leaders have implemented a stay-at-home lockdown and reinstated weekend curfews due to what officials have called the “uncontrolled spread” of COVID-19 in the tribe’s communities.
The Arizona Department of Corrections reported 6,388 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Thursday, including 1,516 in Tucson, 1,199 in Yuma, 984 in Eyman, and 853 in Douglas; 42,748 inmates statewide have been tested. A total of 1,709 prison staff members have self-reported testing positive, the department said. Twenty-six incarcerated people in Arizona have been confirmed to have died of COVID-19, with eight additional deaths under investigation.
An estimated 32% of all COVID-19 cases statewide involve people who are white, 29% are Hispanic or Latino, 5% are Native American, 3% are Black and 1% are Asian/Pacific Islander. Race and ethnicity is unknown for 26% of all cases.
Of those who have tested positive in Arizona since the start of the pandemic, 15% were younger than 20, 45% were 20-44, 15% were 45-54, 12% were 55-64 and 13% were over age 65.
Laboratories have completed 2,775,486 diagnostic tests on unique individuals for COVID-19, 12.5% of which have come back positive. That number includes both PCR and antigen testing. The percentage of positive tests had increased since mid-May but began decreasing in July and held steady around 4% for several weeks, per the state. It was at least 18% for the past three weeks. The state numbers leave out data from labs that do not report electronically.
The state Health Department has started including probable cases as anyone with a positive antigen test, another type of test to determine current infection. Antigen tests (not related to antibody tests) are a newer type of COVID-19 diagnostic test that use a nasal swab or another fluid sample to test for current infection. Results are typically produced within 15 minutes.
A positive antigen test result is considered very accurate, but there’s an increased chance of false-negative results, the Mayo Clinic says. Depending on the situation, Mayo Clinic officials say a doctor may recommend a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test to confirm a negative antigen test result.
Arizona as of Saturday had the 21st highest overall case rate in the country since Jan. 21. Ahead of Arizona in cases per 100,000 people since the pandemic began are North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Utah, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama, Nevada and Mississippi, according to the CDC.
Arizona’s infection rate is 6,690 cases per 100,000 people, the CDC said. The national average is 5,642 cases per 100,000 people, though the rates in states hard hit early on in the pandemic may be an undercount because of a lack of available testing in March and April.
Reported deaths: 8,427
Deaths by county: 4,907 in Maricopa, 983 in Pima, 498 in Yuma, 346 in Pinal, 325 in Mohave, 324 in Navajo, 225 in Apache, 205 in Coconino, 192 in Yavapai, 126 in Gila, 119 in Cochise, 93 in Santa Cruz, 48 in Graham, 33 in La Paz and three in Greenlee.
People age 65 and older made up 6,179 of the 8,427 deaths, or 73%. Following that, 15% of deaths were in the 55-64 age group, 6% were 45-54 and 5% were 20-44 years old.
While race/ethnicity is unknown for 10% of deaths, 45% of those who died whose race/ethnicity were known were white, 29% were Hispanic or Latino, 10% were Native American, 3% were Black and 1% were Asian/Pacific Islander, the state data show.
The global death toll as of Sunday morning was 1,759,794 and the U.S. had the highest death count of any country in the world, at 331,930, according to Johns Hopkins University. Arizona’s death total of 8,424 deaths represents 2.55% of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. as of Saturday.
The COVID-19 death rate in Arizona was 115 per 100,000 people as of Saturday, according to the CDC, putting it 14th in the country in a state ranking that separates New York City from New York state and includes Washington D.C. The U.S. average is 99 deaths per 100,000 people, the CDC said.
New York City has the highest death rate, at 296 deaths per 100,000 people. After that, New Jersey, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Connecticut, South Dakota, Rhode Island, Louisiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Michigan, Iowa and Pennsylvania.
Reach the reporter at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @curtis_chels.
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