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Arizona’s COVID cases are surging, community spread is back

By: - November 13, 2020 2:41 pm

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which causes COVID-19. Public domain image.

Arizona is seeing a spike in new coronavirus cases this week and Arizona Department of Health Services Director Cara Christ said the increase in cases is an “indication of community spread” as the number of new cases has continued to grow.

Statewide, Arizona reported a total of 3,015 new cases on Friday, with 67% of those in Maricopa County. Over the last week, Arizona has averaged 2,049 new confirmed cases per day at a rate of 28 cases per 100,000 residents. 

The last time Arizona saw numbers this high was in August. However, that was during a downturn in infections, while the current numbers are in the midst of a climb. One important factor is the infection rate, which is judged on a scale of 0-2; a rate of less than 1 means little spread is happening, while rates above 1 indicate community spread. In August, Arizona’s infection rate was .72, much lower than the current 1.18, according to data compiled by COVID Act Now

It appears that certain procedures related to COVID-19 are back on the rise as well, according to ADHS data. Earlier this week, 92 intubations were performed, the highest single-day number since July.

Emergency departments are beginning to see an increase in coronavirus activity, per AzDHS data, with nearly 50% of emergency department bed availability being used by COVID-19 patients. 

And more are in intensive care. Two weeks ago, 11% of the state’s ICU beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients; today, that figure is 20%. Roughly 14% of ICU beds in Arizona are currently vacant.

In July, when hospitalizations for COVID peaked, almost 60% of all ICU beds in the state were in use by COVID-19 patients. 

Arizonans over the age of 65 are currently experiencing the highest hospitalization rate. 

But almost 50% of the new cases in Arizona are 20- to 44-year-olds, according to data presented by AzDHS. 

“Among 20 to 44 year olds, college aged individuals continue to see the highest number of cases,” Christ said in a YouTube video Thursday . 

Arizona State University has had 2,466 students and 90 staff test positive for COVID-19. Currently, 405 students are positive and 37 staff are positive, according to ASU’s data. 

Northern Arizona University has had 1,543 students test positive for COVID-19 since Sept. 2 and is currently managing 57 current cases. 

The University of Arizona has had 2,538 students and 48 staff members test positive for COVID-19 since Sept. 2. 

Eleven of Arizona’s 15 counties have been seeing an increase in cases, with only Greenlee county seeing a decrease in cases. 

Christ said that mitigation efforts like masks, social distancing and hand washing are still the best ways to mitigate the spread of the virus. The state provides masks for free at azhealth.gov/ordermasks 

“We urge all Arizonans to appropriately wear a mask, whether or not they live in an area with a mandate,” Christ said. 

Christ also urged that news of a possible COVID-19 vaccine should not sway people away from mitigating current efforts to stop the spread of the virus. 

“The recent news about a potential vaccine for COVID-19 is indeed exciting, but this is no time to let up on masks, distancing and other precautions that slow the spread,” Christ said. 

Arizona is not alone in its surge in cases. The country saw a record number of cases this week with Thursday being the highest one-day infection total on record, according to John Hopkins University data. 

There have been over 269,000 cases of COVID-19 in Arizona and over 6,200 deaths as of Nov. 13.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joined 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. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.