Friday, December 18, 2020
Banner Health’s Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Marjorie Bessel shared alarming news of the spread of COVID-19 throughout the state at a press conference today despite the hopeful news of the vaccine’s arrival in Arizona.
Bessel remains concerned as the state continues to experience an “exponential growth” of coronavirus with case counts, positivity rates and hospitalizations all increasing.
As the top clinical leader of Arizona’s largest hospital system that’s providing care for almost half of the state’s hospitalized COVID-19 patients, Bessel worries about the continuing surge of the virus, especially during the holiday season.
Within the first two weeks of December, COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state have increased by 93%. This is the same rate experienced throughout the entire month of November, Bessel shared.
According to the chief clinical officer, coronavirus patients comprise 49% of all Banner’s hospitalized patients and 55% of ICU beds. That represents 150% of the hospitals’ peak in a pandemic-free winter season.
Bessel said Banner is also seeing increased deaths from COVID-19, causing the morgues at some hospitals to become so overwhelmed that bodies are being placed in refrigerated trucks.
Closely following guidance from the White House coronavirus task force, Bessel highlighted that Arizona is experiencing a “full resurgence” as it did in its summer surge in cases, but it lacks the mitigation necessary to suppress it.
Bessel expressed support for allowing local authorities to implement mitigation protocols like Tucson and Pima County have done through mandatory curfews and mask mandates.
“We've seen recent actions, as an example, by the mayor of Tucson, Pima County, the mayor of Phoenix and the Phoenix City Council, giving local mayors authority to take mitigation steps and help the state of Arizona's health care system reduce COVID-19 cases in our hospital, which in turn helps all of us by ensuring that the health care we or our families may require will be there in our time of need,” she said.
In a press conference Wednesday, Gov. Doug Ducey made clear he isn’t implementing any further statewide mitigation guidelines as the virus rages through Arizona.
“The White House coronavirus task force also states that if state and local policies do not reflect the seriousness of the current situation, all public health officials must alert the state population directly,” Bessel said. “As the chief clinical officer for the largest health system in Arizona, which is caring for nearly half of all the hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the state, I am following the direction of the White House coronavirus task force by alerting you directly about what needs to be done to slow the spread of COVID-19 before the level exceeds that of our health care resources.”
Bessel urges the public to limit physical interaction to only those in their immediate households, wear a mask in all public situations and avoid traveling or gathering with those outside their households during the holidays.
“These actions are absolutely necessary, and we need every Arizonan to do their part so that healthcare can continue to be accessible to all those who need it, both COVID and non-COVID patients,” she said. “When healthcare systems become overrun, all care is jeopardized.”
If hospitals become depleted of essential resources such as staff and ventilators, Arizona’s triage addendum will be activated, which would determine who receives emergency care first and when.
At Banner’s COVID-19 vaccination sites, which began giving mass vaccines to healthcare workers yesterday, Bessel said there was only one significant side effect experienced by a recipient who “had a hyperventilation issue and was able to be cared for.”
However, she says the vaccine can cause a reaction that mimics symptoms of COVID-19, such as fatigue, fever, headaches or muscle aches.
“That is a normal response to the vaccine, and in fact, in the trials, a large percentage of individuals who receive the vaccine did have those side effects. Most all of those side effects went away in about 24 hours or less,” Bessel said.
According to Bessel, a “couple hundred” health care workers were vaccinated at Banner’s Arizona state fairgrounds site yesterday, but as over 20,000 individuals in the first group to receive the vaccine wait on their turn, she is asking for patience.
“We are asking everybody to remain patient. It is our understanding that we will continue to receive vaccine, we will have enough vaccine to distribute to all of those individuals...But it's going to take us some time to work our way through everybody,” she said.
Banner’s chief clinical officer is concerned about the approaching holiday season, as in the summer surge, cases increased after Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. The state is already seeing a surge in cases from Thanksgiving.
“As we go into the rest of this month and into early January with the holidays upon us, we can expect to see continued surge,” Bessel said. “You can do your part. Please wear your mask and shrink your circle and be aware of your circle even during the holiday season. There are different ways to celebrate for this year, and we can all look forward to a much different holiday season in 2021.”