'It's everywhere right now': Arizona COVID-19 cases continue to climb
The Arizona Department of Health Services reported 11,498 new COVID-19 infections in its weekly update Wednesday — the highest weekly case count since February.
“We’re definitely in a surge here in Arizona, the numbers are definitely going up," said Dr. Josh LaBaer, executive director of Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute.
This week's case count represents a nearly 400% increase just since last month. Other COVID-19 metrics also indicate a surge, LaBaer said. Positivity rates in Arizona are at the highest level since winter. The health department reports about 16% of recent tests have been positive, up from just 3% in April.
“Without a doubt, it’s everywhere right now,” LaBaer said.
LaBaer said vaccines are providing strong protection against severe disease. COVID-19 hospitalizations in Arizona are on the rise, but still remain relatively low compared with previous waves. COVID-19 patients now occupy less than 2% of hospital beds in Maricopa County, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“While we are seeing this surge right now, we’re not seeing our hospitals get overwhelmed with cases,” LaBaer said. “That was always the most important thing.”
The challenge, LaBaer said, is that the omicron sub-variant that’s spreading right now is more likely than previous strains to cause breakthrough cases among vaccinated people or infect people who have already had COVID-19.
“Omicron, more than its predecessors, lends itself to reinfection. People get less immunity against this omicron variant," LaBaer said.
LaBaer notes that after its winter surge, the United Kingdom saw a second omicron wave that lasted about six weeks. He said he's hopeful Arizona's current surge could follow a similar pattern and peak within the next few weeks. But he said he expects numbers to keep climbing for the immediate future. He said he would encourage Arizonans to keep masks on indoors in public for now.
“If I’m out and indoors and there’s a lot of people around, some of them are bound to have it, given the numbers that we’re looking at," LaBaer said. "It’s so contagious. In those circumstances I’ll wear my mask.”