Arizona hospital leaders urge caution ahead of Thanksgiving

By Katherine Davis-Young
Published: Wednesday, November 17, 2021 - 4:11pm
Updated: Thursday, November 18, 2021 - 10:30am

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sign says masks are federally mandated
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Travelers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on June 21, 2021.

COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Arizona. With Thanksgiving approaching, the state's health care leaders are urging Arizonans to be cautious. 

“Here in Arizona, being an under-vaccinated state, already starting to have a surge of cases, and going into the holidays is going to absolutely create the perfect storm,” Dr. Marjorie Bessel, chief clinical officer of Banner Health told KJZZ's The Show on Wednesday.   

Arizona’s hospitals are even more full of COVID-19 patients now than they were at the same time last year. The Arizona Department of Health Services reports inpatient beds in the state are now at 94% capacity with 2,315 beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. On the same date last year, 1,624 COVID-19 patients were in inpatient beds. The 2020 winter holiday season preceded the state's biggest surge of any point during the pandemic. COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the state peaked in January of 2021. 

Dr. Marjorie Bessel
Banner Health
Dr. Marjorie Bessel

Bessel said she is frustrated to see cases and hospitalizations increasing this year, even though safe and effective vaccines are now available. She said not enough Arizonans have taken advantage of vaccination. 

"That is why we're continuing to see a surge and we're going to see even larger numbers after the holidays," Bessel said.  

Just 54% of Arizonans are now fully vaccinated. Medical experts continue to say increasing that vaccination rate will be the most important step toward slowing the outbreak.

But with the virus so prevalent in Arizona right now, additional mitigation measures are needed, too, Dr. Michael White with Valleywise Health told reporters Wednesday.

“It is time to continue to wear a mask, even if you’re vaccinated at this particular point," White said. "We’ve got to make some changes if we’re going to get in front of this.”

White said anyone who's feeling sick should skip out on travel or group festivities this Thanksgiving. If your holiday gatherings include people who aren’t vaccinated, White suggested additional precautions.

“If we can be outside, that’s the safest place for us to be as we celebrate the holidays," White said. "If we can’t, then I would recommend wearing masks. Those are going to be the safest measures we can have to reduce the spread of this virus.”

Dr. Shad Marvasti with the University of Arizona College of Medicine recommends all vaccinated and unvaccinated people to get a COVID-19 test before the holiday this year.

“The COVID that was circulating last Thanksgiving was not the delta variant, so it wasn't as infectious, and it didn't make as many younger healthier people as sick as delta does.”

Marvasti says vaccinated people are at a lower risk for contracting the virus but recommends people think of others around their holiday table.

KJZZ's Thalia Lopez contributed to this report.

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