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This Week in COVID: State and County Vaccine Fight 'Unlikely' to Cause Disruption

COVID-19 vaccinations continued this week.EXPAND
COVID-19 vaccinations continued this week.
Courtesy of Banner Health
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It's Tuesday, February 9. More than 787,260 Arizonans have contracted COVID-19 and more than 14,286 have died as a result. Here's what happened in the last week:

Arizona is averaging 3,169 cases of COVID-19 each day. The average number of new cases each day has continued its steady decline since the second week of January. Cases have finally dropped below where they were at during the worst of the summer surge and are now closer to where they were at the end of November. Joshua LaBaer, executive director of Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute, said last Wednesday that the peak in cases over the holidays followed by the current decrease shows that holiday gatherings and travel drove a large part of the surge in cases.

Arizona is now only the fifth-worst state when it comes to the number of COVID-19 cases by population in the last week. The state averaged 50.5 cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days, behind South Carolina, Texas, Arkansas, and North Carolina, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. This comes after Arizona had led the country for weeks in COVID-19 infections by population. North Dakota now has the lowest case rate in the continental United States, with an average of 9.8 cases per 100,000 people in the last week. Arizona is also fifth in the nation for the number of deaths by population reported in the last week.

People with COVID-19 occupy less than half of all intensive-care beds in the state for the first time since mid-December. Statewide, 45 percent of intensive-care beds are in use by COVID-19 patients. Overall, available intensive-care bed capacity has finally exceeded 10 percent, although a 20 percent "safety margin" is usually considered the minimum capacity needed. The majority of COVID-19 patients in intensive care, 561 of 838, are on ventilators.

Lower occupancy means hospitals are resuming more surgeries. Banner Health Chief Clinical Officer Marjorie Bessel told the media last Wednesday that the hospital network, the state's largest, has now resumed surgeries that require no more than one night of intensive-care monitoring and three days of in-hospital recovery. Banner is working through a backlog of needed surgeries that were postponed due to COVID-19 and Bessel said they remain very busy. Some of the contracts for travel nurses brought into the state to bolster staffing will begin to expire soon, which will require Banner to monitor its staffing levels closely.

On Saturday, February 6, Arizona's COVID-19 death toll passed 14,000 people. Death numbers generally lag behind the number of new infections, meaning that they do not necessarily reflect how widespread the virus is right now. This is the second week in a row where Arizona has added an additional 1,000 deaths to COVID-19's toll.

For the second week in a row, Maricopa County received no Pfizer vaccines from the state, but there's no need to panic yet. Maricopa County spokesperson Ron Coleman said on Monday that the county had been booking appointments at its vaccination sites only to distribute the vaccines it has on hand, instead of relying on what it was projected to receive in the future, as the state does. However, state officials determined that they wanted to get vaccines out faster, so they are requiring the county to use up its supply of Pfizer vaccines before receiving more.

A spokesperson for HonorHealth, Lauren Strait, said that the healthcare system did not expect any disruption to currently scheduled appointments at its county-affiliated vaccination site. Coleman also added that the county has enough supply to meet appointments through the end of the week after moving doses between sites. After that, the state has promised to continue providing enough vaccines to keep county sites running at the same rate, he said.

However, Banner Health, which operates two of the six county sites, is pausing new appointments. Spokesperson David Lozano said Banner's vaccine sites are currently booked through March and they will honor all current appointments. If there are any hiccups, Banner has a plan to ensure that everyone receives a second dose. Arizona Department of Health Services (DHS) spokesperson Steve Elliott said that going forward, Maricopa County will have to submit a plan to state officials about projected vaccine usage in order to receive doses.

This is the latest example of the state aggressively pursuing a more central role in the vaccination campaign. Governor Doug Ducey has repeatedly said that he wants "shots in arms" more quickly, and he's put pressure on county officials to speed up efforts. He's also used his executive power to redirect vaccines to state-run sites from health care providers that he believes weren't moving fast enough. After the state opened up a site at Phoenix Municipal Stadium last week that could only administer 500 doses a day, Ducey added an additional 21,000 slots largely by reallocating the shots that would have gone to Maricopa County.

This just the latest friction between the state and county that has marred vaccination efforts. Last week, Ducey took a shot at the county on Twitter, claiming inaccurately that no shots had been wasted at the state-run State Farm Stadium site, unlike at county sites. In reality, the state was just using a more restrictive definition of "wasted," DHS spokesperson Elliott later confirmed. While county spokesperson Coleman said that disruption is unlikely at county sites due to the state's reallocation, operating the way the state wants with less vaccine on hand makes long-term planning more difficult. Will Humble, head of the Arizona Public Health Association and a vocal critic of the Ducey administration's COVID-19 response, was more cynical, telling Phoenix New Times that Ducey was prioritizing state-run sites as a photo op to distract from his poor handling of the pandemic up to this point.

The vaccine site at State Farm Stadium and DHS Director Dr. Cara Christ received positive press coverage on Monday when President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris did virtual tour. Biden told Dr. Christ that he'd received a call from the NFL commissioner offering up football stadiums as vaccination sites across the nation. He said they would look to Arizona's site as an example of how to do that. And he praised Dr. Christ effusively, thanking her for her dedication and "saving people's lives."

Other vaccination sites continue to pop up. One in north Scottsdale just opened in an old brewery. ASU is also operating a site on-campus.

Maricopa County is currently in the prioritized phase of 1B. The chart doesn't reflect that the fact that the county is currently prioritizing only K-12 educators and childcare providers. The state is following similar guidelines but including people 65 and older.EXPAND
Maricopa County is currently in the prioritized phase of 1B. The chart doesn't reflect that the fact that the county is currently prioritizing only K-12 educators and childcare providers. The state is following similar guidelines but including people 65 and older.
Maricopa County

If you want to try and sign up to get vaccinated, here's where to go. If you meet the county criteria outlined above, you can go here to find out where to sign up. If you're 75 or older you can also check out the pharmacies listed on the same page. If you meet that criteria, are a higher-ed educator, or are someone aged 65 or older, you can register for a state-run site here — although state-run sites are full through the end of the month. There is a statewide map of vaccination locations.

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