Thursday, January 13, 2022

AZ COVID Death Toll Tops 25K

Posted By on Thu, Jan 13, 2022 at 10:33 AM

More than 25,000 Arizona have now died after contracting COVID-19.

The virus has killed 25,002 people as of today, including 3,273 in Pima County, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The grim milestone came one day after the state reported a record 18,783 new cases of COVID-19 as the Omicron variant continues to rapidly spread across the state. The previous record was 17,234 cases, set on Jan. 3, 2021.

While Omicron appears to be less severe than the Delta variant, especially among vaccinated people, the surge of cases is still putting pressure on Arizona’s overwhelmed hospitals and ICU units.

This week, Dr. Marjorie Bessel, the chief clinical officer for Banner Health in Arizona, said the health network was seeing a steady uptick in admissions in recent weeks and healthcare workers are contracting the virus, leading to staffing crunches at Banner Health.

As a result of the staffing crunch, some Banner urgent care locations have closed, causing longer wait times at other urgent care facilities, according to Bessel, Banner Health chief clinical officer, who gave a media briefing on Tuesday, Jan. 11.t.

Banner’s staffing shortage reflects a national shortage of healthcare workers due to the surge of Omicron.

With crowded emergency rooms and long waits, Bessel said Banner is using ERs for life-threatening issues and asked Arizonans to consider primary care doctors and urgent care clinics for non-emergency needs.

She also urged Arizonans to get vaccinated and receive a booster shot because it’s “the best way to prevent serious COVID illness that requires hospital level care.” She also said people should mask up when indoors, preferably with a fitted KN95 mask, stay home when feeling sick and to get tested when experiencing symptoms.

Dr. Joe Gerald, the University of Arizona Zuckerman College of Public Health epidemiologist who has been tracking Arizona's COVID outbreak since its earliest days, said that crush of cases was not limited to Banner Health.

"While peak occupancy will not reach prior levels, the Delta, and now Omicron, waves have placed much higher levels of chronic stress on our health system," Gerald wrote in his most recent weekly COVID update. "We have so far seen 146 consecutive days with a combined occupancy >2000 patients whereas the summer 2020 and winter 2021 waves saw 57 and 98 days, respectively. Until last week, we had experienced 37 consecutive days with >3000 combined occupancy whereas the summer 2020 and winter 2021 waves saw 35 and 78 days, respectively. After a 10-day respite over Christmas-New Years, we are once again >3000 combined occupancy (last 4 days)."

Gerald noted a total of 53,207 Arizonans tested positive for COVID in the week ending Jan. 2, which was more than twice as many as the previous week. Along with that 120% increase, cases are being diagnosed at 731 per 100,000.

COVID was spreading especially fast among those 15 to 24 years of age, who are seeing rates of 1,005 cases per 100,000, and lowest among those 65 and older, at 407 cases per 100,000. People younger than 15 are averaging 409 cases per 100,000. Those high numbers likely undercount the total number of positive cases because not everyone who gets COVID will get a test, and not everyone who takes an at-home test reports their diagnosis.

The positivity of those getting tested, which dipped down to the 8% range last summer, jumped to 50% and "remains inadequate for public health practice and many cases are going undiagnosed," Gerald wrote.

Tucson Weekly staff reporter Nicole Feltman contributed to this report.

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