Wednesday, January 27, 2021
Despite last week's announcement that COVID-19 cases had decreased and that some elective surgeries would resume, Arizona’s largest hospital system is still treating a record number of coronavirus patients.
Banner Health’s Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Marjorie Bessel estimated that 45% to 50% of the COVID-19 patients in the state—369,281 as of Wednesday—are being treated by Banner.
“We are currently caring for more COVID-19 patients in our Arizona hospitals and ICUs than we were during the peak of the summer surge,” Bessel said. “Patient care in our hospitals has not yet returned to a state that I would define as usual and customary, and I would caution you against celebrating too early as we slowly work our way out of this difficult surge.”
A grim outlook
Reported COVID-19 deaths continue to rise, and Banner is using thousands of out-of-state healthcare workers while upskilling others to help in its ICUs, Bessel said.
The hospital’s forecasting predicts it will take two to three more months for Arizona to fully recover from the winter surge in cases with many more weeks of high numbers of hospitalizations.
Bessel said Banner hospitals frequently monitor the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation tool to grasp likely consequences of COVID-19 in the future.
Estimates predict Arizona will reach 18,500 deaths by May if it continues its current mitigation policies against the virus. If the state eases current mitigations, the death total could reach 22,200 by May, Bessel shared.
Bessel said while vaccines are a long-term strategy to combat coronavirus, “Mitigation and enforcement will be much more effective in reducing COVID-19 deaths in the upcoming weeks and months.”
Banner’s surpasses 100,000 COVID vaccinations
On Tuesday, Banner reached the milestone of 100,000 COVID-19 vaccines at its PODs across the state.
“Back in December, we were one of the first vaccination sites to actually open up in the state of Arizona, and this was done despite the incredible pressures upon us and our frontlines of our hospitals,” Bessel said. “But we knew the importance of this work and we absolutely rose to that occasion. During this past month, we have continued to create an efficient mass vaccination process.”
However, many counties, including Pima, are experiencing a limited vaccine supply disproportionate to the population. According to Bessel, a new vaccine may be authorized to speed up the process.
“We know that there is a limited supply of vaccine that's at the world level, that's at the national level, that's at the state level and that is certainly at the county level. We all just need to be patient as we continue to work through this process,” Bessel said. “In addition to that, it's very possible and likely that another manufacturer or vaccine may get authorization sometime here in the first quarter of 2021. We will continue to bring updated information if and when that occurs.”
She said those who receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Banner will “most likely” get a notification to schedule their second dose.
Variants could worsen COVID-19 crisis
Bessel said Banner is closely following the known COVID-19 mutations: the UK variant, the South African variant and the Brazilian variant. The UK variant, which is much more contagious, has been found in the United States.
With little information about the effects of the variants so far, Bessel said the current vaccines will likely work against the coronavirus mutations.
“We're getting some good information that the vaccine looks like it will still be efficacious against these variants,” Bessel said. “This is an evolving and dynamic situation, and we're continuing to watch it very, very closely and carefully and do expect that more information about this will unfold over the next weeks and months to come.”
Bessel expects the variants could already account for some of the reported COVID-19 cases and deaths in the state.
“As we've learned throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the virus travels fairly quickly across the entire world, and even though we may not have a confirmed case of it, it's very plausible that it is already here,” she said. “Again, this is a very dynamic situation. We will continue to monitor it and stay close to it in the upcoming weeks to months, and we'll bring you updated information as it becomes available to all of us.”
As Arizona faces the possible worsening of an already accelerated virus, it ranks number two in the nation today for the transmission of COVID-19 with 95 average daily cases per 100,000 of the population, a slight improvement from the number one spot it’s held the last few days.
“This is not the first time that Arizona, very unfortunately, has been at the top of that. If you remember back to our very significant summer surge, we also had very high cases. And we're number one in the world for a period of time when we're at the very, very peak,” Bessel said.
“This was a very difficult surge that we've all just crested over and we're having a very slow decline. So I ask everybody to assist with the messages that I continue to convey each and every week. Please continue to shrink your circles and wear your mask appropriately, completely over your nose, your mouth and cover your chin.”