Arizona Hospitals Brace For Flu Season As COVID-19 Cases Remain High

Published: Wednesday, September 22, 2021 - 2:19pm
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COVID-19 hospitalizations in Arizona appear to be leveling off. But fall is officially here, and hospital leaders worry seasonal illnesses will strain the state’s health care system. 

At this time last year, many Arizona cities were still requiring face masks, many schools were still teaching remotely, and some businesses still had capacity limits. Those mitigation measures helped prevent the spread of COVID-19, but Dr. Marjorie Bessel, chief clinical officer with Banner Health, said they also led to a very mild flu season.

“Influenza spreads in a very similar way to COVID, through respiratory pathogens. So they spread when we are together in large groups, in tight settings," Bessel told reporters Wednesday. 

This year, medical experts expect flu season to be much more severe, but Arizona hospitals are still strained by a third wave of COVID-19 cases. New COVID-19 infections in Arizona appear to have slowed after surging throughout July and August, but ICU beds in the state remain 91% full. Dr. Michael White, chief clinical officer with Valleywise Health, said COVID vaccines and flu vaccines are critical to prevent further demand on the state's health care resources. 

“We need to encourage individuals now, as we’re entering that time of the year, to get people vaccinated against influenza as well," White said. 

Hospital leaders say they’re already seeing some flu cases in the community.

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