Dr. Gerald’s Weekly COVID-19 Epidemiology & Hospital Occupancy Report

As we pass the 2-year mark for the pandemic, Arizona is distinguished to have the 2nd highest number of COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 in the U.S., with a death rate of 348/100,000. Only Mississippi has a higher COVID death rate at 357/100,000.

Assuming current trends continue (and there’s no reason to believe they won’t- given the lack of interest in mitigation by Doug Ducey & Don Herrington), Arizona will have the highest per-capita COVID death rate in the entire U.S. by mid-February.  A dubious distinction indeed, and one that is mainly attributable to the decisions made by Doug Ducey, ADHS Interim Director Don Herrington, and former ADHS Director Cara Christ.

Summary of this week’s report by Dr. Joe Gerald:

Arizona is experiencing historic levels of community transmission attributable to the dominant Omicron variant. Test positivity is insanely high reminding us that test capacity, accessibility, and/or uptake is wholly inadequate. Transmission (cases) has likely peaked as you read this but expect high levels of hospital through February. The greatest burden on our health care system will remain in hospital wards and emergency departments.

As of January 16th, new cases were being diagnosed at a rate of 1896 cases per 100K residents per week. We can expect rates to peak ~2000 cases per 100K residents/week, somewhat lower than some other states perhaps due to less testing availability. Ideally, a peak would be indicated by declining case counts and test positivity. Hopefully, next week’s update will bring confirmation of both.

Even if Arizona is moving down the backside of the wave, it is still important that all adults who previously completed the 2-dose primary sequence to obtain a booster, particularly those 50+ years of age. The risk of Omicron infection will remain extremely high for many weeks. Remember, the CDC defines high community transmission as levels >100 cases per 100K residents per week. We’re a far cry from that!

COVID-19 hospital occupancy (wards) continues to increase but should moderate soon. Hospitals will continue to be burdened by >30% occupancy in general wards and in the ICU for several weeks yet. Access to care continues to be restricted by both COVID-19 occupancy and staff shortages owing to infections among healthcare workers.

Weekly COVID-19 deaths likely peaked at 530 deaths the week ending December 12th. However, weekly totals in the upper-300s, lower-400s are likely for several more weeks. So far, at least 25,502 Arizonans have lost their lives to COVID-19.