No sugar-coating Arizona’s COVID-19 surge

By Ed Kimble

Do not dismiss any of the news you are hearing about the surge in Arizona’s COVID-19 cases. It’s bad. And it’s getting worse by the day. Just before Memorial Day, Pima County had 180 infections per 100,000 people; today, we have 605 cases per 100,000 according to the Arizona Department of Health Services Data Dashboard (ADHS).

Though, Pima’s case rate is significantly lower than the overall state rate of 834 cases per 100,000, the county had 1,095 new cases reported last week — roughly 1 out of every 1,000 county residents in just one week.

Statewide, Arizona has moved up from the nation’s 12th lowest infection rate to the nation’s 12th highest in just one month, now higher than the national average for the first time in the 106 days since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11. Arizona also earns the dubious distinction of ranking 12th in the nation for the total number of cases at 59,974 as of Wednesday, June 24. »worldometer

As predicted, the daily number of new cases statewide has multiplied FIVE times since Gov. Doug Ducey lifted stay at home orders on May 15. That day, there were 562 new cases reported. Last week, the daily case numbers peaked at 3,089 on June 17, a number that is likely to increase as medical facilities catch up on their data reporting to ADHS.

To some extent, the higher number of daily cases reported are attributable to the ADHS’s June 1 change in reporting per CDC guidance. Formerly only confirmed cases were reported. Since June 1, both confirmed and suspected cases are reported.

Nearly 60% all cases reported in Arizona are among individuals under 44 years old. However, 75% of all deaths in Arizona have been in individuals 65 years or over. If you get one takeaway from this report, it should be to stay away from young people who aren’t wearing masks.

If you get one takeaway from this report, it should be to stay away from young people who aren’t wearing masks.

Pima County reports 648 individuals hospitalized for the coronavirus at present, and our major hospitals are reporting strains on their intensive care unit capacity. The Arizona Daily Star reports that Pima County’s major hospitals are at or near ICU capacity already, and they have begun to reach out to the state’s health-care emergency hotline to move those seriously or critically ill. Both Northwest Medical Center and Oro Valley Hospital are now regularly transferring patients to other facilities. Some of the pressure on Pima County hospitals comes from inbound transfers from Nogales, Yuma, and the Navajo Nation. Of course, ICU beds are needed for many conditions other than COVID-19, though almost half the states’ ICU beds are currently in use for coronavirus patients.

It is even possible that Pima County will exceed its available ICU capacity before the end of July, according to the University of Arizona Zuckerman College of Public Health. On Tuesday, ADHS reported the highest adult ICU occupancy since the COVID-19 Crisis began, with only 12% still available. General ward bed utilization statewide is at 86%. However, in Gov. Ducey’s latest action plan for containing the COVID-19 surge, delivered June 17, reported that the state has the capacity to bring on 600 additional ICU beds and 2,600 additional general ward beds.

Two bright spots are that emergency room capacity has proved more than sufficient during the surge, with less than half the state’s ER beds in use, and 56% of the state’s ventilators remain available.

Fortunately, if you are not infected, we now know how to remain uninfected. Last week, the New York Times published a roundup of what we’ve learned about COVID-19 in the first six months of the epidemic. Though dashing our hopes that hot summer weather might contain the virus, experts now agree that we don’t have to worry so much about catching the virus from surfaces we might touch in a grocery store or other public place. And wearing face masks, especially in indoor public places, is a must.

Unfortunately, like so many other things these days, face masks have become politicized. Axios reported this week that while 65% of Democrats wear face masks in public most of the time, only about 35% of Republicans do. This distinction was apparent at this week’s Trump rally at the Dream City Church in Phoenix, with 100% of protestors outside the venue wearing face masks, while estimates of less than 20% of Trump supporters inside the venue covering their face. So, another takeaway from this update might be to steer clear of Republicans.

Trump rally in Phoenix, AZ, June 23, 2020
Young people listen to President Donald Trump as he delivers an “Address to Young Americans” at the Dream City Church in Phoenix, on June 23, 2020. Carlos Barria / Reuters