PHOENIX — A record number of Arizonans are now hospitalized for COVID-19 as the state retains its dubious distinction as the place the virus is spreading faster than anywhere else in the United States.
New figures Wednesday from the Arizona Department of Health Services show 3,809 hospital beds are occupied by COVID patients. Even at the previous peak in July, that figure was 3,517.
The new report also shows coronavirus patients are in 1,309 beds in emergency rooms, also a new record.
And while the ICU-bed usage by COVID patients set no new records, just 155 such beds remain available in the entire state.
All this comes on top of a statewide daily death count that now has reached 108, tying the previous one-day high during the current virus surge. That brings the total number of COVID-19 deaths in Arizona to 7,530.
There also were another 4,848 new cases reported; the tally now is 429,219. That figure may be artificially low as it does not include people who are asymptomatic and do not get tested, yet are capable of spreading the disease.
Last week, close to one in five people who did get tested in Arizona came up positive for the virus. “And this week we are trending higher,” said state health chief Dr. Cara Christ.
In Pima County, there have been 54,957 cases of coronavirus, up 711 Wednesday from the previous day. There have been 836 deaths in Pima County, up 19 from the previous day.
health chief will be among first to get shotAlso on Wednesday, Gov. Doug Ducey toured a vaccination site being set up at the Arizona State Fairgrounds where the first inoculations were set to be administered later that day.
Among the first to get a shot in the arm will be Christ. The state’s protocols call for the first vaccines to be given to health-care workers. And while Christ is a medical doctor, she does not provide direct care to patients.
But Ducey said the decision to have her at the front of the line is based on the need to give Arizonans the confidence to roll up their own sleeves for a novel vaccine.
That means getting the message from someone Arizonans trust, he said — in this case, the health director who has been the public face of the fight against the virus, complete with TV public service announcements.
Christ also pointed to a need for public confidence, and even confidence of medical professionals whom individual patients rely on for advice. A survey done last month found that 37% of health-care professionals polled in Arizona said they probably would not get the COVID-19 inoculations, she noted.
Ducey himself said he is willing to get a shot of one of the vaccines that has been given “emergency use authorization” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
But he said there are only 380,000 doses in the first batch the state is receiving and he does not want to “jump the line.”
More restrictions not necessary, Ducey says
In the meantime, the Republican governor repeated he will not impose new restrictions on businesses or public gatherings, or impose a statewide mandate for face masks, in the face of record-setting levels of infection. He said it’s not necessary.
“Where most of the spread is happening,” and the reason, is “because of the larger group gatherings that are happening in private settings,” Ducey said.
“And then folks that are at that category of age or vulnerability or comorbidity catch this virus,” he continued. “And they are filling our hospitals and our ICUs.”
He said he’s not sure the state can do much about that.
“I don’t know what role you think the government can have in private home settings,” he said. “That’s why we’re trying to educate the public on the best possible policies and protocols.”
Groups urge statewide mask-wearing mandate
Ducey has received multiple letters and requests from different groups asking that he take more substantial action. The most recent, on Wednesday, was from Democratic mayors and lawmakers along with doctors and nurses urging a statewide mask mandate.
“If Arizona’s leaders are refusing to acknowledge the severity of the pandemic by taking necessary mitigation measures, how can we expect everyone else to follow suit?” they asked.
“I am not ignoring anyone,” Ducey responded when asked about the various requests. “I am listening to everyone,” he continued, saying he is taking “the best counsel and advice and putting those steps forward.”
The governor reacted angrily to questions at a media briefing about whether his lack of action makes him in some way responsible for the number of deaths in Arizona.
“That is not true,” he said. “It is the virus that is taking these lives. The vaccine will save millions of lives going forward.”
Ducey also suggested there is some inconsistency in some of what he is being asked to do.
On one hand, he said, there are those who think there should be more restrictions on businesses. That, in turn, means throwing people out of work.
At the same time, the governor said he is being asked to extend a moratorium on residential evictions, one imposed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that is set to expire at the end of the year. That is likely to result in a spike of people who have not been able to pay rent being kicked out.
“But the best way to keep people inside their homes or their apartments is to allow them to be safely and successfully employed so they can pay their rent or pay their mortgage,” Ducey said.
He repeatedly sought to turn the focus of his media briefing back to his announcement about the first inoculations.
“We’re here today on a historic day, as I said, which is really a miracle of modern medicine, of our public-health officials, of a private-public relationship, of an operation called Warp Speed that is delivering something that can put this behind us,” he said.
Ducey also sought to tamp down talk about Arizona’s rate of infection spread currently being the highest in the nation.
“The real measure of success is vaccinations,” and not only in the logistical rollout of the program, he said.
“It’s also to build confidence in this vaccine, that it’s safe, that it’s effective, it will save lives and it will bring us back to a sense of normality in this state and in this country,” he said.