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Earlier this week the state posted a nearly record breaking daily number of COVID-19 cases and experts are now warning that the state is seeing caseloads skyrocket at a higher rate than at any other time during the pandemic.
“This is the fastest rate of rise we have seen,” said Dr. Joshua LaBaer, executive director of Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute. “Things are going up very quickly.”
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On Monday, the number of daily reported COVID-19 cases soared to more than 14,000, the second-most since the pandemic began, surpassed only by the 17,000 reported exactly one year ago.
“We’re just beginning to see the rise in Arizona as compared to the rest of the country,” LaBaer said to reporters Wednesday about the surge.
Other areas of the country have already been experiencing sharp rises in cases related to the highly infectious omicron variant, with hospitals in cities like Phildalphia canceling procedures and tightening visitor procedures. Like Arizona, western states like Utah have also begun to see similar surges in their numbers after the holidays.
LaBaer also told reporters that Arizona may want to look to other countries to try to understand what to do and not to do when attempting to stop the spread of the virus. The United Kingdom has been grappling with the omicron variant and early data there has suggested that those who get booster shots have a 70-to-75% protection against symptomatic infection from the omicron variant.
A new report released by the Arizona Department of Health Services supports that assumption, as well. The report shows that unvaccinated individuals had 4.9 times higher risk of infection and were 31.1 times more likely to die from COVID in November. A similar report by AzDHS in October found that unvaccinated individuals were 15.2 times more likely to die from COVID-19.
“If you are vaccinated, please use this report as a reason to get a booster dose as soon as you are eligible,” ADHS Director Don Herrington said in a blog post about the data. Herrington also urged those who are not vaccinated to get vaccinated against the virus.
“If you remain undecided about getting the vaccine, the data makes a strong case for getting a lifesaving shot that can spare you from severe illness, long-haul COVID, and more,” Herrington wrote.
Meanwhile LaBaer said he is advocating for the citizens of Arizona to continue wearing masks in any indoor settings, distancing whenever possible and testing as soon as possible if symptoms begin or a person has been exposed to someone ill.
“This variant is so transmissible,” LaBaer said, noting that the omicron variant can start spreading as early as two days without showing symptoms.
While Arizona hospitals have not reached overload yet, LaBaer said, the number of cases that are coming in could likely change that as the weeks progress.
And the full scope of the omicron wave might not be known because of increased use of over-the-counter testing kits used at home. People who test positive with an at home test kit are not required to report their positive test results to the state.
“The numbers we are seeing are probably underestimated,” LaBaer said. “We don’t have a good idea of the number of cases out there.”
Arizona reported 7,749 new cases of COVID-19 and 61 deaths on Wednesday, bringing the state’s total number of people infected since the start of the pandemic to more than 1.4 million and more than 24,500 dead, according to AzDHS data.
Anyone seeking a vaccination can find vaccine information online for Maricopa County here and statewide here.
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