Arizona's health department has no new plans as COVID-19 cases hit record high
New COVID-19 infections in Arizona hit an all-time high Wednesday. Meanwhile, hospitals in the state are reporting they’re dangerously overcrowded and understaffed. But the state’s health department is not planning any new changes to its pandemic response.
“The plan is the same as it’s always been,” Arizona Department of Health Services interim director Don Herrington told KJZZ News. “We’re trying to encourage more people to get vaccinated.”
Arizona’s vaccination rate remains below the national average. A year since the vaccine rollout began, more than a quarter of eligible people in the state have not had even one dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Herrington said the department is planning to produce more public service announcements about vaccines but could not name any new incentive programs to get more Arizonans immunized.
“While it seems that it’s kind of lacking incentives, the incentive should be for everyone to know that they’re protecting their family, their friends, their community,” Herrington said.
Medical experts agree that vaccination is the most important step to preventing hospitalization or death from the virus. But immunity takes several weeks to build up after someone receives a vaccine and even fully vaccinated individuals can be vulnerable to breakthrough infections as the highly contagious omicron variant spreads. Many public health experts say a multilayered approach to mitigation — which includes vaccinations, mask use, limits on crowd sizes and improved ventilation — is key to slowing the spread of the disease.
Last week, more than 1,200 Arizona health care professionals signed a letter to Herrington and other state leaders saying the state’s hospitals were in crisis.
"Continued inaction by our hospital leaders and lawmakers will be viewed by the health care community as an informed decision to ignore the health and safety of the communities you serve and an attack on those sacrificing their health and safety to care for their community," healthcare workers wrote.
The health care workers asked for mask requirements, funding for air filters for classrooms, increased access to testing, and additional support for hospitals.
Herrington said the state is currently funding hundreds of travel nurses for Arizona hospitals. He said he’s optimistic the federal government will be increasing supply of home tests soon.