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Arizona hospitals getting fuller as COVID-19 patients getting younger

(AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

PHOENIX – An Arizona emergency medicine doctor has seen a domino effect happening in the state as coronavirus cases continue to rise.

“COVID units are getting so filled up that a lot of patients — even ones there for other conditions — are getting backed up in emergency departments,” said Dr. Murtaza Akhter, a clinical assistant professor in emergency medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine–Phoenix.

He also says younger patients might think they’re immune to COVID-19 and not protect themselves.

“There’s a heavy, heavy caseload of respiratory cases — cough, fever, body aches, trouble breathing, and that’s concerning because a lot of them do end up having COVID,” Akhter said.

“I see plenty of young people come into the ER, and my initial thought when I look at their chart is, ‘Why is someone this age in the emergency department?’ And I talk to the patient and I say, ‘This does look pretty bad.'”

Still, the elderly and those with preexisting medical conditions are most at risk.

Akhter says it’s too early to tell if the spike in cases will wreck Arizona’s hospital system.

“It’s possible, like in New York City, where they were on the edge and somehow didn’t teeter and fall of it, and managed,” he said. “It’s possible that we will manage and be OK.

“And maybe we will have enough beds, supplies and ventilators.”

Gov. Doug Ducey and Arizona hospital networks insist we do, bearing in mind they’re supposed to freeze elective surgeries again — by executive order — because hospitals are at least 80-percent full.

So, social distancing, good hygiene and staying at home when sick become all the more critical.

“I don’t know of any single governor or mayor who has said that social distancing isn’t important anymore, even as they are taking away stay-at-home orders,” Akhter said.

“When I hear about people being in situations where there are maybe a hundred people gathering together at a party or at a club, or going to a barbecue dinner, or even a wedding, it’s just appalling.”

Just like Ducey and other leaders and experts, Akhter is not surprised Arizona’s coronavirus cases are soaring.

“You see what happens when people go lax,” he said. “I think it’s going to surge quite a bit higher based on what I’m seeing, and as the numbers over the next week, we’re going to see even worse numbers, which is unfortunate.”

That is, unless we get another “stay at home” order to stop COVID-19’s spread, which Ducey wants to avoid.

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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