Arizona pandemic czar says all options on table as COVID wave floods hospitals

Dec 10, 2021, 12:01 PM | Updated: 12:18 pm

Medical staff in the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit at Three Rivers Asante Medical Center treat a pat...

Medical staff in the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit at Three Rivers Asante Medical Center treat a patient on Sept. 9, 2021, in Grants Pass, Oregon. (File Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

(File Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Arizona’s pandemic czar said Friday the rising COVID-19 wave has become a “crisis” for the state’s hospitals and could trigger a stoppage of elective surgeries if the situation worsens.

“This is really a crisis now, and every day we’re having the discussions as, ‘How do we surge, when and if this happens, what do we need to curtail?’” Dr. Richard Carmona, the former U.S. surgeon general serving as the top public health emergency advisor to Gov. Doug Ducey and the Arizona Department of Health Services, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News.

With COVID-related hospitalizations climbing steadily since the end of October, the amount of unused inpatient and ICU beds statewide shrunk to their lowest levels of the pandemic this week.

With more than one-third of the state’s population still unvaccinated, Carmona said “every option” is on the table for relieving the strain on hospitals.

He said nearly 80% of people hospitalized with COVID haven’t been vaccinated. According to ADHS data for October released earlier this week, Arizonans who aren’t fully vaccinated were nearly four times more likely than those who are to test positive and had a 15 times greater risk of dying from the virus.

“We may have to start thinking about not doing elective surgery,” Carmona said. “We may have to stop thinking about doing anything that’s elective and only treat emergencies.”

Carmona said staffing and equipment shortages are actually more of a concern than bed capacity.

“We have lots of beds, but we have not enough staff and sometimes not enough equipment, like an ECMO for instance,” he said, referring to extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machines, which can keep some patients with heart and lung failure alive.

“The ECMO machine itself is important, but then you need staff that are able to operate that.”

Health care workers are worn down after battling “this invisible threat” for nearly two years, Carmona said.

“Our nursing, our medical professionals our respiratory therapists, all of whom have families to protect as well, they are exhausted,” he said. “So it’s very, very difficult to keep the staffing rates up to provide the care.”

Similar difficulties exist in other states, which limits Arizona’s contingency plan options.

“States around us where we normally which could shift patients back and forth, some of them have already gone into crisis mode, meaning they are not going to take anybody from outside,” Carmona said. “And here in our state were unable to help them by taking patients.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

A storm that blew in on Sunday forced a ground stop at Sky Harbor Airport. (ADOT photo)...

Ground stop issued at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport due to thunderstorms

A ground stop was issued at Sky Harbor Airport around 3:30 p.m. on Sunday after thunderstorms hit, impacting flights out of the Valley.

8 minutes ago

A five-mile stretch of SR-88 will be closed for flooding repairs. (ADOT photo)...

Contractor approved for project to restore limited access to State Route 88

ADOT announced Friday an approved contract for a project that aims to restore limited access to a five-mile stretch of State Route 88 damaged by flooding.

31 minutes ago

Detours on southbound I-17 are expected this week near Bumble Bee Road. (ADOT photo)...

Overnight detours to begin Monday on southbound I-17 at Bumble Bee Road

Drivers traveling south on Interstate 17 north of Black Canyon City should plan for overnight detours beginning Monday, ADOT said.

2 hours ago

Joe Biden speaking at podium next to Kamala Harris...

Kelly endorses Harris for Democratic ticket, Arizona reacts to Biden withdrawing from 2024 race

President Joe Biden announced Sunday that he will not seek reelection after his first term as commander in chief ends in January 2025. U.S. Senator Mark Kelly  (D-Arizona) endorsed Harris on X as the prevailing name on the Democratic presidential ticket.

3 hours ago

Migrants in sitting close to each other in Mexico asylum...

Associated Press

Behind Biden’s asylum halt: Migrants must say if they fear deportation, not wait to be asked

Posters inside a complex of giant, white tents tell migrants in English, Spanish, Mandarin and Hindi they should tell an officer if they fear being deported and “your claim will be heard.”

7 hours ago

Rendering of Papago Golf House designed by Wespac Construction Inc....

Payne Moses

Construction begins on Papago Golf House, will serve many public golf organizations

Construction for the Papago Golf House is now underway, as the groundbreaking was announced by the project manager on Thursday.

9 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Beat the heat, ensure your AC unit is summer-ready

With temperatures starting to rise across the Valley, now is a great time to be sure your AC unit is ready to withstand the sweltering summer heat.


Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.



Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

Arizona pandemic czar says all options on table as COVID wave floods hospitals