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Arizona health expert says hospitals could soon reach summer virus peaks

PHOENIX – A prominent Arizona health expert says Arizona hospitals could reach peak summertime capacities in the coming weeks and could start to steps to shift their focuses of care as coronavirus cases surge in the state.

Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Gaydos & Chad Show on Thursday that recent projections by modeling teams from Arizona State University and the University of Arizona show hospitals in the state could reach capacities that they saw around mid-July between Dec. 13 and Dec. 22 without proper interventions.

“The puzzling thing is that we lived through this in June and July and you would think that people in positions like they are would recognize the threat that we’re facing and make some decisions in advance to prevent that from happening again and do those things with enough time on the clock for them to take effect,” Humble said.

Humble noted that the lack of action by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey during Wednesday’s press conference was not as significant as not taking any steps last month when coronavirus cases in the state seemed to plateau.

Health experts have warned about the state’s hospital capacity being hit by coronavirus and flu cases coupled with an influx of winter visitors and snowbirds.

On Thursday, Arizona health officials reported 4,123 new coronavirus cases and 19 additional deaths, the first daily report of more than 4,000 cases since July 14. Arizona’s confirmed or suspected COVID-19 hospital inpatients increased overnight to 1,796 on Wednesday, which is 96% higher than Nov. 1, when it was 918, and the most since Aug. 5.

The number of COVID-19 inpatients peaked July 13 at 3,517 and fell afterward as low as 468 on Sept. 27.

Humbled noted that if the system is going to shift its focus, the ramp up will appear in four steps, some of which are already starting to take place in some parts of the state.

Hospitals will begin to restrict visitors, which is a move that Mayo Clinic, the Phoenix VA and Banner Health’s Tucson locations have started to make in the past week.

From there, hospitals would postpone elective procedures, like heart valve replacements. After that, the state’s surge line and the crisis standards of care could be authorized to prioritize patients as resources become limited.

“I think we just have to do the best that we can with making responsible decisions to slow the spread so that we can preserve our hospital capacity with enough time for the vaccine to come out,” Humble said.

With recent announcements by Moderna and Pfizer about promising coronavirus vaccines, the focus will then shift to how efficient Arizona’s plan is properly distributing the vaccine.

“Vaccines in a warehouse don’t do anything, vaccines in an arm do,” Humble said.

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