Arizona Hospitals Near Capacity As COVID-19 Cases Continue Rising

Published: Wednesday, January 6, 2021 - 2:52pm

Arizona’s COVID-19 outbreak shows no signs of slowing down. The state is now reporting more new cases per capita than anywhere else in the country. The state's health care leaders say hospitals are already stretched thin and the worst is likely yet to come.

“Whenever we have a large spike of number of cases, we expect to see hospitalizations rise one to two weeks after that," Banner Health chief clinical officer Dr. Marjorie Bessel said Wednesday in a news conference. "It is our absolute expectation and our forecast model indicates we will continue to have a rise in cases throughout the next couple of weeks.”

According to the state's data, one out of every four COVID-19 tests in Arizona was positive as of last week, a record high positivity rate. As cases soar, Arizona's hospitals ICU beds are already at 93% capacity.

Bessel said Banner hospitals are holding patients in the emergency department, recovery areas and wherever beds can fit. She said COVID-19 positive patients often require long hospital stays and high levels of care, worsening strains on space and staffing. 

“Many times you’ll see multiple caregivers at the bedside turning these patients whose lungs are so badly affected that even life-support isn’t enough to keep them alive," Bessel said. 

Chief clinical officer Dr. Michael White said Valleywise Health currently has no available ICU beds as a Christmas and New Year's case spike begins to become apparent. 

“Certainly mitigation in early December would have helped us decrease the burden that we are likely going to see now," White said Wednesday.   

White and Bessel, along with other hospital leaders in the state, for weeks have been calling for more policy interventions from Gov. Doug Ducey and Arizona's Department of Health Services. Ducey has said businesses in the state already have plenty of safety guidelines in place. 

But Bessel said she wants to see mitigation such as a statewide mask mandate, a curfew, and a temporary ban on indoor dining. She said individual Arizonans also need to do their part to limit interactions with others outside their household.