Winter Surge: Covid Cases Race Through County, State

As coronavirus cases and hospitalizations increase across the state, public health officials are warning of a wintertime surge that could limit hospitals' resources as it did this summer.

Within the first 17 days of November, Arizona is averaging 1,997 new COVID-19 cases a day. Nov. 14 saw a case count of 3,476—the highest reported in the state since July.

Pima County has contributed 33,444 cases to the total state count of 279,896 as of Tuesday, Nov. 17. On that day, the county reported 357 new cases.

The county's percent positivity for COVID-19 remains at 7.5%. A rate of 5% is a good indicator the spread of the virus is under control.

Over 2,000 cases were reported the first week of November countywide, according to a press release from the Pima County Health Department.

Hospitalizations for coronavirus in this time period reached the highest one week total since the summer spike in cases, according to the release.

"We are very concerned, especially with holidays like Thanksgiving upon us," Pima County Health Department Director Theresa Cullen said in the release. "This is starting to look like the beginning of the huge spike that we saw over the summer."

The county health department expected COVID-19 cases to go up after Halloween celebrations and election events. But the remainder of the holiday season is yet to come, and case numbers are already rising.

"Two thousand cases, that's very similar to the number of cases per week the first couple of weeks of June when we really saw that huge spike, so that's very concerning to us," said Aaron Pacheco, the health department's communications manager.

Furthermore, Pima County's COVID-19 Progress Report, which tracks local disease data, healthcare capacity and public health capacity, showed worsening conditions when it was updated last Thursday.

According to the department's press release, cases per week, percent positivity and COVID-19 hospital bed capacity all declined from previously improving states.

However, according to Pacheco, the county is already in a state of widespread transmission even though metrics like percent positivity and cases over two weeks haven't yet shown substantial spread on the report.

"We are in widespread transmission, but the way that the state and our progress report to coincide with the state gets reported, it's about 12 days in the past," Pacheco said. "Whatever week we're in now, we're two weeks behind on the progress report....this week, we do expect that on Thursday, when the new report comes out, that we will have hit the red mark."

Last Thursday, one metric that did move to red was hospital bed capacity to care for two times the current COVID cases, plus an increase of 25% in their usual surge capacity.

According to the progress report, this means: "The number of inpatient, ICU, and emergency room positive or suspected COVID-19 patients continues to increase or plateau, regardless of rate."

"When we measure that, we're using the surge capacity bed count as well. So with that being in red, that means that their usual capacity is pretty tight," Pacheco said. "We're looking at [hospitals] sort of being at the upper end of what their normal bed capacity would be, and that's why that category moved backward to red."

As widespread traveling and large group gatherings are expected over the holiday season, health officials are asking the public to continue obeying coronavirus safety mitigation tactics like social distancing, mask-wearing and frequent sanitation.

"We need people to take the extra steps that we know can help slow the spread of the virus," Cullen said in the press release. "We will continue to struggle to keep people healthy and out of the hospital if we can't get these numbers down."

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