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Arizona officials not alarmed by apparently negative COVID-19 trends

FILE - In this April 14, 2020 file photo Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey give an update on the state's pandemic response during a news conference in Phoenix. (Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic via AP, Pool,File)

PHOENIX – Arizona officials aren’t sounding any alarms despite what appears to be multiple negative trends in the state’s coronavirus cases.

During a press conference Thursday, Gov. Doug Ducey and Health Director Dr. Cara Christ said recent rises in new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and positive test percentages aren’t unexpected or reason for concern.

On Tuesday, the state reported more than 1,100 new cases, several hundred more than the previous highest daily report. That was followed by more than 900 new cases Wednesday.

Ducey said the case increase was inevitable as the state has been conducting more tests, and it was no reason to reconsider his decision to let his stay-at-home order expire and allow most businesses to reopen.

“The more we test, the more cases that we are going to have,” he said.

The Arizona Department of Health Services reported 530 new coronavirus cases Thursday morning and 15 additional deaths, increasing the documented totals to 22,753 and 996.

The health department’s COVID-19 dashboard is updated each morning after the state receives statistics and compiles them, which can lag by several days to a week. The daily reports aren’t meant to represent the actual activity over the past 24 hours.

In another apparently negative trend, the percentage of tests coming back positive has been increasing over the past week.

The combined percentage of tests for active COVID-19 infections (PCR) and antibodies (serology) reached 5.8% Thursday morning. The total positive rate had dipped to 5.5% one week ago.

When just looking at just PCR tests, the positive rate was up to 6.9% on Thursday after falling to 6.6% a week ago.

Christ said the increase in positive percentage may be related to an increase of testing among high-risk communities.

“We are seeing it go up,” she said. “It’s not unexpected especially as we are targeting more of those vulnerable higher areas and higher numbers of long-term care, higher numbers of correctional officers and prisons, so we are going to see changing numbers and we expect that.”

The number of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients in the hospital each day has steadily climbed throughout the pandemic and reached a high of 1,092 on Wednesday before dipping slightly to 1,079 on Thursday.

In addition, the state’s inpatient hospital bed capacity was at its lowest point Thursday since the health department started reporting it March 26. Of those beds, 87% (8,820) were in use, leaving a cushion of 1,351. That’s nearly 200 fewer beds than were reported as available the previous day.

Christ said some of that was because of an increase of hospitalizations among non-coronavirus cases since elective surgeries were allowed to resume May 1.

She also said bed capacity was just one of a number of metrics to watch and wouldn’t say what level of hospital use would be considered a crisis.

“We are not in a crisis standards of care protocol right now. So we continue to monitor,” she said.

“I don’t know that it will be a specific percentage that would trigger that, but it will be looking at the totality of the data.”

Coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe outcomes, including pneumonia and death.

In most cases, a positive test won’t change a patient’s treatment plan.

For all articles, information and updates on the coronavirus from KTAR News, visit ktar.com/coronavirus.

Arizona open and hiring: If you’re looking for job openings, visit ktar.com/arizonahiring.

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