Arizona hospitals fuller than ever due to COVID spike

As 2020 comes to a close, Arizona hospital beds are filling up with COVID-19 patients at a historic rate.

There are currently more hospital beds occupied by COVID patients in Arizona than at any point since the start of the pandemic. According to data from the Arizona Department of Health Services, more than 6,450 Arizonans were using in-patient, intensive care and emergency department beds as of Tuesday.

That is an all-time high, breaking several previous records from July, when the state was grappling with a surge in coronavirus cases.

The previous record was set on July 14, when 3,517 people were in the hospital for the virus. As of Tuesday, 4,163 people were hospitalized. Since Dec. 1, there has been a 54% increase in the number of COVID patients using in-patient beds at Arizona hospitals.

Only 119 ICU beds in the entire state, or 7 percent, are now available, a record low since the start of the pandemic. More than half of the ICU beds in the state are in use by COVID patients, and Arizona has broken its previous high water-mark set in July of 970 coronavirus patients in ICUs, with 972 as of Tuesday.

A previous analysis of Health and Human Services data by the Arizona Mirror found that hospitals across the state are nearing capacity, and several hospitals have ICUs that are understaffed and full of COVID patients. 

Emergency rooms are seeing more COVID patients as well.

COVID patients are filling more emergency department beds in Arizona than ever before with more than half. About half the state’s emergency department beds, which is about 1,300, are filled by coronavirus patients. That number didn’t exceed 1,100 during the previous peak in July.

Emergency rooms across the state have consistently had around half or close to half of their beds full of COVID patients since the second week of November, according to ADHS data. Nearly 12,000 suspected COVID patients visited Arizona emergency rooms last week alone.

Ventilator usage by suspected COVID patients is also spiking, increasing by 73 percent since the beginning of December. There are 673 coronavirus patients currently on ventilators in Arizona, just shy of the previous record of 687, set on July 16.

Intubations, a procedure in which a tube is inserted into the airway to help breathing, are also on the rise and seeing record numbers. Arizona has twice broken its previous record for most single-day intubations.

December is also on pace to be one of the most deadly months since July for the pandemic. July saw 2,050 Arizonans lose their lives to the virus, December has seen a total of 1,715 thus far, according to researchers at John Hopkins University

Over the last week Arizona has averaged over 6,000 cases per day. 

Statewide, Arizona reported a total of 6,058 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 54 deaths, with the majority of them coming from Maricopa County. There have been more than 473,000 cases of COVID-19 in Arizona and over 8,100 deaths as of Dec. 23, according to ADHS.

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.