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ASU health expert pushes for more testing as coronavirus cases surge

(Facebook/ ASU Biodesign Institute)

PHOENIX (AP) — As Arizona remains the worst state in the nation for the rate of new COVID-19 cases, a public health expert warned Wednesday that more people in the state need to get tested.

“If we’re raging with that many cases in the state, we should be testing 80,000, 100,000 tests a day to really identify cases and get people isolated,” Dr. Joshua LaBaer, director of the Biodesign Institute research center at Arizona State University, said during a briefing with reporters.

“I know some people don’t really want to find out they’re positive because it means they have to stay home for two weeks. That’s how we stop the spread.”

LaBaer estimates that only about 15,000 COVID-19 tests are being administered each day across the state, a figure that is low considering Arizona is “one of the hotspots in the country if not the world.”

The Arizona Department of Health Services on Wednesday tallied 4,845 additional virus cases and 262 related deaths, bringing Arizona’s totals since the pandemic began to 690,544 cases and 11,528 deaths.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker shows Arizona has a seven-day new-case average of 97.4 cases per 100,000 people. The U.S. average is 60.1 per 100,000 people.

The number of infections in Arizona is thought to be far higher than reported because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

LaBaer thinks one reason for the drop in testing is reluctance on the part of people. At ASU, appointment slots for COVID-19 saliva testing typically filled when infections increased. But recently, LaBaer noticed there have been numerous open slots.

“I’m worried that people are just getting fatigued with it all and they just don’t want to know,” he said. “Our recommendation is anybody that has a public-facing job of any kind … those folks should get tested on a weekly basis.”

Hospitalizations, meanwhile, continued to trend downward for a ninth day. Officials say 4,663 people were hospitalized due to COVID-19 on Tuesday. Within that group, 1,050 were in ICUs.

LaBaer cautioned against taking that as a sign that Arizona is turning a corner.

“First of all, those numbers fluctuate day to day. I wouldn’t read too much into a little bit here and a little bit there,” he said.

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