AZ severely lacking hospital beds, ICUs, ventilators to fight COVID-19

By: - March 25, 2020 4:22 pm
covid-19 coronavirus doctor patient ICU

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Arizona is sorely lacking in hospital beds, intensive care unit facilities and ventilators needed to treat COVID-19 when hospitalization peaks in about six weeks, the state’s top public health official said Wednesday.

Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said the latest modeling paints a grim picture: The state will need to double its ICU beds from the current 1,500 to 3,000; increase its non-IAZ severely lacking hospital beds, ICUs, ventilators to fight COVID-19CU hospital beds from 16,000 to 29,000; and more than triple the number of ventilators from roughly 1,400 to at least 4,500.

“We expect it to be above and beyond our current capacity of beds,” Christ said in a Wednesday afternoon press conference.

Christ said infections are expected to peak in mid-April, with hospitalizations peaking in mid-May.

***UPDATE: Several hours after the March 25 afternoon press conference at which she said Arizona was far short of what was needed, Christ said the figures were based on worst-case scenarios, and assumed “nothing is done to mitigate the spread between now and then.

“We’re hoping all the things we’re doing now will mitigate the spread,” she said in a tweet.

The state is currently working with the Army Corps of Engineers to find solutions to the problem, she said, including building two field hospitals in Phoenix and one in Tucson. 

Major General Michael T. McGuire, Director of the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs said that the agency put in a request last week to meet with the Army Corps of Engineers to begin looking at solutions, and will submit proposals to Gov. Doug Ducey. 

Christ said ADHS is also working with the Army Corps of Engineers to look at other “alternate care sites,” such as “large venue” areas that could be converted and used for patients who do not need intensive hospital care but still need monitoring. 

At a March 23 press briefing, Christ said her agency is exploring using non-traditional health care facilities, such as outpatient surgical centers, as makeshift intensive care sites. She also identified Veterans Memorial Coliseum as a possible site for “step-down” care for people who are recovering from COVID-19 as a way to free up hospital space sooner.

The state is also looking to find additional ventilators to prepare for patients that will need them. 

Ventilators help patients who cannot breathe properly and are currently in short supply nationally. Christ said they’ve identified approximately 1,000 ventilators statewide but DHS believes there are approximately 1,400 in total statewide. 

The state has put in a request with the federal government for an additional 5,000 ventilators from the national stockpile and are planning on requesting an additional 5,000 more, Christ said. 

However, reporting by the Center for Public Integrity found that there are only 16,600 ventilators in the federal government’s strategic stockpile of ventilators. 

It is estimated that up to 742,000 people may need ventilators in the United States if the outbreak is severe and more than 64,000 if the outbreak is moderate, according to a study by the Center for Health Security at John Hopkins

On March 18, President Donald Trump signed an executive order invoking the Defense Production Act, which requires private companies to prioritize federal government orders for items needed to combat COVID-19, including ventilators, masks, surgical gowns and more.

However, Trump has yet to make a single order under the DPA, even as the ventilator shortfall becomes a critical health emergency in states like New York, which says it needs 30,000 ventilators to treat its residents.

Community spread of the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, is now considered “moderate” and is increasing, ADHS says. The state’s public health agency says there are now 401 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 11 of Arizona’s 15 counties. Six people have died as a result. 

How you can tell if you might have been impacted

Symptoms of coronavirus resemble that of the flu. So, if you’re experiencing coughing, fever, difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath, you should consider getting checked out. Call your primary care physician or visit an urgent care center or emergency room — but call the health care provider before you go so they can be prepared for your arrival. The Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center is taking COVID-19 calls: 1-844-542-8201

How COVID-19 spreads

  • Through the air by coughing or sneezing
  • Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it

How to prevent spreading COVID-19

  • Cover coughs or sneezes with your elbow. Don’t use your hands.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Clean surfaces frequently, including counter tops, light switches, cell phones, remotes, and other frequently touched items.
  • Contain: If you are sick, stay home until you are feeling better. Once symptoms are gone experts recommend staying home an additional 72 hours.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joins the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. Jerod has also won awards for his documentary films which have covered issues such as religious tolerance and surveillance technology used by police. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.