Size of the surge: ICU beds up 40% since summer, but still near capacity

Recently released data shows that Arizona has increased its intensive care unit bed capacity by 44% since the end of July — ICU beds that are now largely filled as the coronavirus pandemic has continued to break records in the state.

Gov. Doug Ducey in March ordered hospitals to increase hospital capacity by 50%. 

The federal data, collected from each hospital by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, dates back to July and shows the steady increase in the number of ICU beds was underway. By the final week of November, the state had 688 more ICU beds than it had four months earlier. 

Despite the dramatic increase, the state has this month been staring down a potential shortage in ICU space as more Arizonans are hospitalized for COVID-19. By early December, ICU bed capacity had dwindled to just 8% as cases continued to surge past the previous record levels in June and July.

The Arizona Department of Health Services data dashboard puts the number of adult intensive care unit beds at around 1,753 with 171 of those beds, or 10%, being available as of Dec. 11. That count includes only beds that hospitals have staff to operate, and ADHS spokeswoman said.   

The number of ICU beds being taken up by COVID-19 patients is also quikly rising, with the number of confirmed or suspected coronavirus patients increasing 40% since the last week of September. Every week since Sept. 25, the number of patients in Arizona ICUs for COVID-19 has risen. 

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

The data from HHS also reveals that current ICU COVID-19 numbers are reaching levels seen in the summer. 

Statewide, Arizona reported a total of 6,983 new cases of COVID-19 Friday and 91 deaths, with the majority of them coming from Maricopa County. There have been more than 394,000 cases of COVID-19 in Arizona and over 7,200 deaths as of Dec. 11, 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.