The good news from this week's COVID-19 update from Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute? The rate at which COVID-19 is spreading appears to have steadied.
The bad news? The virus is still widespread and infecting around 3,000 new people a day on average.
"We've plateaued, but we've plateaued [at] tenfold higher numbers per day than when we first plateaued months ago," said Executive Director Joshua LaBaer. "Instead of seeing hundreds of new cases a day, we're seeing thousands of new cases a day. And clearly we don't want to be doing that."
While there is a slight downward trend in the number of new cases, LaBaer said it's too soon to say if that is more than just a fluke in the data. The number of new tests the state has reported daily has fluctuated, and some people are seeing delays of up to 12 days to get their test results back.
What is for certain, LaBaer said, is that the measures we've taken so far are making a difference and show that we can control the rate of new infections. Continuing those measures and increasing efforts to push the virus back will be crucial, as the state's current situation is unsustainable, he said.
Last month, Governor Doug Ducey ordered bars and other congregate settings closed for 30 days, an order that will expire soon. LaBaer said now is not the time to ease up on such measures, particularly for environments that are centered around socializing, like bars.
Intensive Care Unit bed usage has dropped slightly, as has overall hospital usage by COVID-19 patients, but medical professionals have said for weeks that their staffing is being stretched thin. Staying at our current rate of spread will continue the strain and the risk of fatigue, LaBaer said.
"We are already struggling to have enough personnel, especially nurses, in the state to manage all these cases. So, I don't think that the status quo can be sustained for a long time," LaBaer said. "We do need to reduce the number of cases and reduce the number of hospitalizations. It's just encouraging that the practices we're following now are helping."
LaBaer emphasized the importance of making testing more available and decreasing turnaround times in continuing to drive down numbers. With the current delays, people may have already run the full course of the disease before they receive their results, he said. Getting results back to people in 24 to 48 hours would allow them to make more effective decisions based on the tests — particularly in the case of asymptomatic people who have comprised up to 40% of cases in some studies.
LaBaer said the goal should be to get to zero new cases a day, as other countries have done, but what he's aiming for now is to get below 100 new cases a day.
Until that time, the death toll will continue to climb. Researchers at Johns Hopkins have found a national mortality rate of around 3.6% of cases in the United States. Yesterday, the state reported 56 deaths, including deaths from past days being recorded now, with the total number of Arizonans dead from the virus approaching 3,000.
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