Arizona COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise as omicron wave grows

Jan 6, 2022, 9:53 AM | Updated: 1:36 pm
Members of the Ohio National Guard administer COVID-19 swab tests at a drive through testing site o...
Members of the Ohio National Guard administer COVID-19 swab tests at a drive through testing site on Jan. 5, 2022, in Akron, Ohio. Due to the surge of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine deployed members of the Ohio National Guard to assist with medical personnel in health facilities and testing sites throughout Ohio. (Photo by Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to climb while case numbers are surging as Arizona’s omicron-fueled coronavirus wave gains momentum, according the latest data.

The number of confirmed or suspected COVID inpatients and ICU patients reached their highest levels of the young year, and more than 10,000 new cases were added to the totals, according to the Thursday morning update of the Arizona Department of Health Services pandemic dashboard.

In addition, positive test rates and COVID-related emergency room visits reached their highest level of the pandemic.

Case counts were expected to soar this week following holiday gatherings and travel at a time the highly contagious omicron variant was taking hold across Arizona and much of the nation.

And even though omicron appears to produce a smaller percentage of severe illnesses than previous variants, officials are worried the case spike will be large enough to create a significant strain on the hospital system, which already was stretched thin.

The addition of 10,679 cases and 16 deaths Thursday put the state’s documented pandemic totals at 1,430,241 infections and 24,586 fatalities.

The actual caseload is likely higher than the officially reported numbers because ADHS data is based mainly on electronic laboratory reporting and doesn’t include results from home kits unless individuals report them to their health care providers.

Arizona’s seven-day average for newly reported cases has more than doubled since Christmas, and the number of COVID inpatients has risen each of the last five days.

The COVID inpatient count was at 2,556 on Wednesday, up around 12% since Dec. 31.

COVID ICU cases had been relatively flat in early 2022 but jumped to their highest mark of the year on Wednesday, when the number reached 605 after an 11-bed day-to-day increase.

Overall remaining hospital space was reported at 505 inpatient beds (6% of capacity) and 91 ICU beds (5% of capacity) on Wednesday. COVID cases were taking up 29% of statewide inpatient beds and 36% of the ICU beds.

Arizona’s positivity rate for diagnostic COVID testing was never above 20% until last week, but in another sign of omicron’s virulence more than a quarter of this week’s reported test results show active infections. The rate was at 22% for samples taken last week as of Thursday’s dashboard update and 27% for so far for this week’s samples.

Meanwhile, the number of COVID-related emergency room visits, which has gone up for four consecutive days, reached 2,371 on Wednesday to break the previous record from Dec. 29, 2020, by 30 patients.

On Wednesday, ADHS data for November showed that Arizonans who weren’t fully vaccinated against COVID were 4.9 times more likely than those who were to test positive and 31.1 times more likely to die from the virus. Although that was before omicron emerged, hospitals are still reporting that a vast majority of COVID patients are unvaccinated.

The state dashboard on Thursday showed 70.1% of Arizonans old enough to get vaccinated had received at least one shot, with 58.8% considered fully vaccinated.

Dr. Joshua LaBaer, executive director of the Arizona State University Biodesign Institute, said that while vaccines provide significant protection from severe illness and death from omicron, the variant is causing a high rate of breakthrough infections in people who haven’t had a booster shot.

“If you get a booster dose, then the protection goes from roughly 25% to over 75%, so a huge bump in protection from a booster vaccine,” he said in a press briefing Wednesday.

More than 90% of recent positive results from Biodesign Institute testing are suspected of being caused by the omicron variant.

The minimum age to receive the Pfizer shot is 5, and it’s 18 for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. The Pfizer version has full Food and Drug Administration approval, while the other two were granted emergency use authorization.

Health officials strongly recommend booster shots for adults (plus those 12 and older for Pfizer) who received their second Moderna dose more than six months ago, their second Pfizer does more than five months ago or the Johnson & Johnson shot at least two months ago.

For details about statewide vaccine availability, the ADHS website has a vaccine-finder page with locations and other information.

For information about metro Phoenix vaccine availability, Maricopa County Public Health has a locator page that lists pharmacies, government-run sites, health clinics and pop-up distribution events. Appointments may be required depending on the provider.

COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, has no impact on some people and is seriously debilitating or fatal for others. Infected people without symptoms — which include but are not limited to cough, fever and difficulty breathing — are capable of spreading the virus.

Information about where to get tested for COVID-19 can be found on the ADHS website.

The state health department’s daily updates present case and death data after the state receives statistics and confirms them, which can lag by several days or more. They don’t represent the actual activity over the past 24 hours. The hospitalization numbers posted each morning are reported electronically the previous evening by hospitals across the state.

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Arizona COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise as omicron wave grows