Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Arizona reached 453,597 on Sunday, Dec. 20, an increase of 5,366 from the previous day, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. There have already been 121,668 new COVID-19 cases in Arizona in December, which means 27 percent of the state’s total number of cases since the start of the pandemic have come in the last 20 days.
The state had been somewhat effective over the last four months in combating the virus, but showed major signs of regression. While July saw an average increase of 3,075 new cases a day, Arizona averaged 877 new cases a day in August, averaged 552 new cases a day in September, but the number crept back up to an average of 903 new cases a day in October, and Arizona averaged 2,600 new cases a day in November. So far in December, the state is averaging 6,083 new cases per day.
Meanwhile, the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 cases in Arizona stands at 7,971 in Arizona after 34 new reported deaths since yesterday.
“The numbers are still trending in a concerning direction,” said Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, “especially considering that the number of holiday parties and gatherings are expected to increase over the next few weeks.”
This surge is the second in Arizona, which was a national hotspot for the disease this summer when surging cases were blamed on the fact that health protocols were abruptly lifted before Memorial Day weekend, when people congregated for parties and get-togethers.
Health experts fear the trend could repeat itself now as people travel and get together for the winter holidays, a threat that could be made worse by the regular flu season.
Dr. Daniel Derksen, an associate vice president at the University of Arizona Health Sciences, said the holiday trips that many people took this weekend put the state in a dire circumstance in regard to the number of hospital beds.
“The cascade effect of what’s happening right now affects not only the people who have these severe consequences of COVID-19 infection,” he said, “but really limits the ability of the health system to manage all of the other health problems that continue to occur, along with entering the influenza season.”
Derksen said the “real scary time” for public health experts will be the next two to six weeks when holiday travel will ramp up again. But the results could be worse, and they won’t be felt just in Arizona.
“It’s not just Arizona hospitals that are reaching their saturation,” he said. “It’s the whole region.”
Holly Ward, spokesperson for the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, said it’s not unusual to see an increase in hospitalizations in the state during the winter, but COVID-19 adds another layer to that dynamic.
“Typically, in the winter months we see an increase in hospitalizations, but now that we add COVID to this, we’re getting dangerously high in the ICU (intensive care unit) bed utilization that’s happening now,” Ward said.
She said hospitals and health care facilities as a whole have always stood ready to take in any patient, no matter the circumstances, but she urged people to do their part to keep from putting a strain on those “healthcare heroes.”
“Hospitals are there to care for anybody that comes to us,” she said. “But we also rely on our community to do their part to not stress the hospital system with a disease that most of us can prevent catching.”
Local governments across the state have started implementing – or reimposing – precautions to stop the spread of the virus as COVID-19 cases in Arizona continue to surge.
In Payson, Mayor Tom Morrissey reinstated an emergency proclamation requiring that people wear a face covering in town until further notice. He said there’s a “mutating factor” with the fluidity of the spread of this virus.
The Tucson City Council voted unanimously Tuesday evening to impose a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew beginning this Friday. The curfew, which starts Friday and runs through Dec. 22, will mean only essential workers can be out during those hours.
The Tucson action was sparked by a memo Friday from the University of Arizona’s COVID-19 Modeling Team that said without action to stop the spread, Arizona “risks a catastrophe on a scale of the worst natural disaster this state has ever experienced.”
Ward said the state learned a lot from the pandemic’s summer surge that has helped it better prepare for the current resurgence.
“Having been through a surge in the summer, we have set up some pretty significant protocol and preparedness as a statewide system,” she said. “We all have a responsibility, but we all have control over ourselves for sure, if not the ability to help our family, friends and community, in doing what we can to stop this.”
Derksen said that while effective COVID-19 vaccines are on the horizon, it might be months before they are available to the general public, and that the challenge of delivering those doses alone will be “quite a logistical endeavor.”
He said the best thing anyone can do is stick to the tried-and-true preventive measures repeated by healthcare experts all year: Wear a mask, maintain your distance, wash your hands and avoid crowds.
“Help’s on the way, but right now, the best measures are the self-help measures that you can do,” Derksen said. “You’re going to get exposed if you’re not careful.”
COVID-19 is a serious disease that can be fatal in anyone, especially our elderly population and people with underlying health conditions. ADHS advises everyone to take precautions:
The best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19:
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
• Wear a mask when you are in close proximity to other people.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Stay home when you are sick.
• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then immediately throw the tissue in the trash.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
COVID-19 spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Symptoms are thought to appear within two to 14 days after exposure and consist of fever, cough, runny nose, and difficulty breathing. For people with mild illness, individuals are asked to stay home, drink plenty of fluids, and get rest. For people with more severe symptoms, such as shortness of breath, individuals are advised to seek healthcare.
ADHS activated its Health Emergency Operations Center on January 27th after the first case of travel-associated COVID-19 was confirmed in Arizona. The Health Emergency Operations Center remains open to coordinate the State’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak. For more information about the COVID-19 response in Arizona, go online to azhealth.gov/COVID19.
Josh Ortega of Cronkite News contributed to this report.