This Week in COVID: Full Hospitals Divert Ambulances as Ducey's Son Parties

Valley hospitals have been asking ambulances to take patients elsewhere as they deal with an overwhelming number of patients.
Valley hospitals have been asking ambulances to take patients elsewhere as they deal with an overwhelming number of patients. City of Phoenix
It's Tuesday, January 5. More than 567,400 Arizonans have been infected with COVID-19 and more than 9,317 have died as a result. Here's what happened in the last week.

Arizona is averaging 8,602 cases per day. Test results are still catching up from the holidays. December 28 now holds the record for the state's most positive tests in one day, with more than 10,800 people testing positive. The next day holds the second-place record, with more than 10,300 Arizonans testing positive. The most cases ever reported in one day over the summer was 5,474, but that number has been routinely surpassed in the last month.

Those numbers mean Arizona is leading the nation for cases per population, according to the CDC. In the last seven days, Arizona has averaged 121.8 cases per 100,000 people. The next-closest state, California, has averaged 97.1 cases per 100,000 people.

More than 1,000 Arizona COVID-19 deaths were reported over the holidays. On January 1, the state surpassed 9,000 reported deaths. The state reported that deaths passed 8,000 on December 22 and 7,000 on December 9.

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients is still at record levels. Statewide, 62 percent of patients in  intensive care units have COVID-19 and only 8 percent of intensive-care beds are currently available.

Last week, 10 local hospitals asked for ambulances to be directed elsewhere due to a lack of capacity. The move was temporary at each hospital, and walk-in patients still received care. But Banner Health Chief Clinical Officer Marjorie Bessel said that it's unusual for so many hospitals to have to turn away patients at one time, and the diversions may result in longer wait times for care.

"We have not yet implemented the triage addendum of the Arizona Crisis Standards of Care plan, but this diversion activity is an early indication that triage may soon be necessary if volumes continue to increase like they did this past week," Bessel told the press last Wednesday.

Some west Valley ambulance services said they would not honor hospitals' requests to send patients elsewhere, ABC15 (KNXV-TV) reported.

Banner, the state's largest hospital chain, is halting all elective surgeries as of January 1. "Elective" surgeries essentially mean any non-emergency surgeries, and include surgeries to address life-threatening diseases, such as cancer.

Bessel once again called for individuals to help prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed by avoiding gatherings outside of the home and wearing masks. She also reiterated her call for additional mitigation measures to address the crisis.

Governor Doug Ducey has not implemented any additional measures. Over the weekend, he tweeted an op-ed by the former governor of Indiana arguing that lockdowns should only be used for the temporary relief of overcrowded hospital emergency rooms and warning about other adverse consequences.

Meanwhile, an Arizona Republic survey found that nobody has been cited for not wearing a mask in major Phoenix-area cities. The paper also found that no businesses had been cited, despite hundreds of official complaints about workplace safety.

Scottsdale is planning on holding 10 sports tournaments in coming months. This comes after Phoenix decided to cancel sporting events. The Scottsdale tournaments include ones moved from other the states, the Scottsdale Progress reported.

Ducey's son posted video of himself at a packed New Year's party. The governor has repeatedly justified his lack of further action to stem COVID-19 by saying that he believes Arizonans are behaving responsibly. Another of Ducey's sons, Joseph, previously made news for a 2018 arrest and citation for possessing a fake ID.
Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman called on the governor to order schools to remain in distance-learning for two weeks following the holidays. Currently, optional state benchmarks call for all instruction to be virtual, but some school districts have opted to resume in-person instruction after winter break. Teachers are protesting the move and said they would perform a "sick out." More than a 1,000 teachers have resigned this school year, up from just over 750 at this time last year.

On New Year's Eve, Ducey renewed an order that makes it harder to sue nursing homes for negligence. Nursing homes have been hit hard by COVID-19 outbreaks. As a July Phoenix New Times article showed, not all of them were following best practices. 

As of Sunday, 90,880 Arizonans had received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Most counties are still in the first phase of the rollout, but Pinal County has already moved to phase 1B, which includes educators and adults over 75.

However, state-level dysfunction appears to be delaying efforts. Maricopa County sent a letter to the state outlining how malfunctions with software implemented by the state at a late hour had dramatically delayed vaccinations. Among other issues, the software sent some medical personnel to vaccination sites more than 100 miles away. The software issues have apparently been fixed since, but a lack of staffing continues to slow the roll out.

Maricopa County is currently in phase 1A of the vaccination plan, meaning front-line medical workers in a variety of settings are eligible. If that's you, you can get on the list here.

A man who operated a shelter for migrants in Nogales since 1982 has died from COVID-19. Juan Francisco Loureiro died on International Migrants Day. The state of Sonora is currently at the second-highest level of COVID-19 spread, according to Mexico's national metrics. Experts warn that the state is approaching the maximum risk level.

The Maricopa County Superior Court clerk has been hospitalized with COVID-19. A spokesperson told the Republic that Jeff Fine contracted the disease on Christmas.

If you want to get tested for COVID-19, you can find a list of testing locations here. ASU also offers free, quick-turnaround saliva testing here.
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Erasmus Baxter is a staff writer for Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Erasmus Baxter