It's Tuesday, January 12. More than 636,000 Arizonans have contracted COVID-19 and more than 10,480 have died as a result. Here's what's happened in the last week:
Arizona is averaging 9,808 new cases of COVID-19 each day. The plateauing in cases seen last week has revealed itself to be just a reflection of lags in reporting, Arizona State University Biodesign Institute Executive Director Joshua LaBaer told the media last Wednesday. As cases are backfilled, "what we're really seeing is a consistent and continued rise in overall cases," he said.
High positivity rates reflect that likely around one in ten people may be carrying the virus, according to LaBaer. If you're at the grocery store or a crowded restaurant, you can assume that at least one person there may be unknowingly carrying the virus, he said. "Don't go out if you don't need to," LaBaer advised. "This is not the time to be out and about."
This trend of steadily increasing cases is mirrored in hospital usage. The number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals continues to break records. Currently, two-thirds of intensive-care beds are in use by COVID-19 patients statewide. More than 1,300 patients are on ventilators, using nearly 60 percent of the state's supply of the life-support devices.
Hospitals are struggling to keep up. Banner Health, the state's largest healthcare provider, is placing people in areas of the hospital that are not normally used for patients and continuing to deploy office staff — including senior leadership — to assist with patients, chief clinical officer Marjorie Bessel told the media last Wednesday. Many more patients than usual are having to wait in emergency room beds while they wait for space to become available, she said.
Hospitals' ability to cope with the strain could be exhausted by the end of January, says a University of Arizona public health researcher. "Because many of these coping mechanisms are hidden from view, it is likely that hospitals will appear to fail abruptly and with little 'seeming' warning," wrote Joe Gerald in a report last Friday.
Medical officials and public health experts are calling for more mitigation measures and enforcement to slow the wave of incoming patients before it topples hospitals. "Those of us who work in health care got into this profession to save lives. Please do not put us in the position to ration care. Please do not make us decide who will get life-saving resources and who will not," Bessel said. "The choices you make in the days and weeks to come are truly life or death. Maybe not your own, but perhaps one of your loved ones, a friend or a neighbor. We can prevent this. You can prevent this."
Meanwhile, Governor Doug Ducey defended his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in his "State of the State" speech Monday. While he criticized those who would end the state of emergency declaration, Ducey blasted any calls for more lockdowns and said he would not hand over control to local mayors who want to lock down their cities. He also pushed for returning students to classrooms and said he was interested in looking at tax cuts. The governor made no mention of other mitigation measures that experts and local leaders have called for, such as a statewide mask mandate or a ban on indoor dining.
Arizona Department of Health Services head Cara Christ denied the allegation that the state was trying to vaccinate its way out of the pandemic. Will Humble, head of the Arizona Public Health Association, had said as much in a recent Washington Post article. At a briefing on Friday, Christ said that there was a lot of focus on the vaccine as it was one of their best tools, but the state continues to enforce the current restrictions in place. (Albeit ones that Christ has weakened.) “What we need people to do is to actually follow the mitigation measures that are in place,” said Christ, also calling for more local enforcement.
Barring further state action, it is crucially important for Arizonans to act to protect each other and avert disaster, Bessel said. Experts say to avoid interacting with people outside your household, to wear a mask when in public or around people you don't live with, to not dine indoors, and to meet outdoors if you do spend time with people outside your household.
More than 151,000 Arizonans have received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Just over 8,000 have received the second dose needed by most people to fully activate the protective effects of the vaccination. Even after the vaccine reaches peak effectiveness a few weeks after the second dose, there still is not evidence that it prevents one from spreading the virus unknowingly.
Maricopa County has entered the next phase of vaccine distribution. Under phase 1B, teachers, law enforcement, and people 75 and older are now also eligible to be vaccinated. Here's what you need to know.
Issues continue to slow the rollout of the vaccine. On Monday morning, Maricopa County Public Health tweeted that its vaccine page had crashed due to high demand as it released information about phase 1B. Last week, people not eligible for the vaccine were still able to register in the state's system, causing delays. Also slowing things are staffing shortages caused by the high volume of COVID-19 patients in hospitals, Bessel at Banner said.
Hoping to speed things up, the state has opened a vaccination site outside State Farm Stadium in Glendale. The site will operate 24/7. In its first seven hours of operation, nearly 44,000 people made appointments to get vaccinated. Another 50,000 slots remain through the end of the month, according to the state. Info on how to register is here.
The more infectious U.K. strain of COVID-19 may be in Arizona. LaBaer at ASU said the university's lab has processed a test that showed a distinct marker of that strain. The sample has been sent for further testing. ASU spokespeople said Monday that results were not back yet but are expected soon.