Arizona's COVID-19 outbreak is among worst in U.S., but not as bad as last winter
Arizona’s health department reported 11,550 new COVID-19 cases in its weekly update Wednesday. That’s a decrease from last week, but the state's outbreak remains among the worst in the country.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, as of last week, Arizona was seeing more COVID-19 infections per capita than any other U.S. state.
Dr. Josh LaBaer, executive director of ASU's Biodesign Institute, told KJZZ News cases are likely being undercounted, since most people now use at-home tests.
“It’s hard to know just how much of it is out there," LaBaer said. "But it looks like there’s a lot of it out there.”
LaBaer noted test positivity rates remain elevated in Arizona and hospitals continue to report high volumes of patients with respiratory infections.
COVID-19 hospitalization rates in Arizona have risen significantly since early fall and are currently among the nation's highest. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports nearly 9% of the state's inpatient beds are now occupied by COVID-19 patients, compared to about 6% nationwide.
Still, those numbers are nowhere near as high as they were during the previous two winters. At this time last year, COVID-19 patients occupied nearly 30% of the state's inpatient beds.
Dr. Jeremy Goodman with Banner University Medical Center, Phoenix said this wave does not appear to be leading to as many severe cases as in previous years.
“So far, the majority of patients with COVID are not needing to come into the intensive care unit,” Goodman told KJZZ News. "So we’ve been able to maintain the capacity outside of that to handle that influx.”
Goodman attributes the change to broader immunity from vaccinations and prior infections.
But even with fewer cases requiring ICU care, LaBaer said it’s still important to avoid infection and to take precautions to keep from spreading the virus to anyone who might be at high risk.
“If it’s infecting lots of people, even a small fraction of a big number could still be a big number," LaBaer said.
LaBaer said the latest COVID-19 booster dose does a good job at protecting against the omicron strain of the virus. But, according to the CDC, only about 12% percent of eligible Arizonans have gotten the shot since it became available in September.
While transmission remains elevated, the CDC is recommending mask use indoors in public for 14 of 15 Arizona counties.