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Arizona’s coronavirus spike starting to plateau, health officials say

(AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

PHOENIX — Arizona’s top health official and Banner Health’s chief clinical officer said Friday the state’s coronavirus spike is starting to stabilize after a holiday surge.

Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said in a press conference that while the state’s coronavirus situation is elevated, cases and hospitalizations are starting to plateau and decrease.

“We had some significant increases 3-5 days after Christmas and 3-5 days after New Year’s,” Christ said. “We had over 58,000 and 62,000 cases reported respectively for those weeks.”

Positive coronavirus diagnostic tests during that time period reached a pandemic-high of 24%.

Percent positivity in the last three weeks has dropped, however, including down to 20% for the nearly 180,000 tested last week.

Inpatient beds available were also a pandemic-low 7% right around New Year’s but has stayed at 8% since Jan. 10.

Banner Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Marjorie Bessel said in another press conference that Banner facilities reached their high points of hospitalizations on Jan. 15.

While Bessel said numbers have since stabilized and trending downward, hospitalizations are still 700% higher and ventilator usage has increased 1,000% from Nov. 1.

The reduction in hospitalizations is not believed to be related to patients dying and rather is related to the overall decrease in viral transmission, according to Bessel.

She, however, did say the morgue census does remain high and the refrigerated trucks are still in use.

Despite the somewhat positive turn, Bessel said it will take much longer to recover from the post-holiday surge than the summer surge.

“Our predictive models show that our decline from this surge will take much longer than the surge we experienced during the summer,” “We do expect pre-surge hospitalization levels for another 10 to 11 weeks.”

Available ICU beds returned to 20% on Aug. 10 after reaching a previous low of 9% on July 7. In the most recent surge, the percentage of available ICU beds was in the single digits each day since Dec. 11 with the exception of Dec. 26 and Dec. 29 when it was 10%.

Bessel recommended people remain vigilant and continue to take personal responsibility by wearing a mask, shrink personal circles and get vaccinated when eligible to help Arizona recover from the post-holiday surge.

Christ said Friday that by next week, the state expects to have a projected total of more than 733,000 coronavirus vaccine doses since distribution started out of the total allocation of 973,175.

For Arizona vaccine information, visit

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