Arizona expert says end of COVID public health emergency could be near

Jan 18, 2022, 9:46 AM | Updated: 12:02 pm

PHOENIX – A prominent Arizona health expert said the omicron wave of COVID-19 is nearing its peak, and the end of the state’s public health emergency could soon follow.

“But the illness itself and the disease, the virus will be with us forever,” Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association and former director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show on Monday. “It will no longer be a public health emergency.”

Based on data from the United Kingdom and South Africa, Humble said he expects Arizona’s omicron-fueled spike of new COVID cases to top out in late January, followed by a drop in virus-related hospitalizations and deaths in February.

“And at that point I’m convinced that we’re going to transition to what’s called endemic, it will no longer be a pandemic, at least in the U.S., probably globally, really,” he said.

Arizona health officials have been reporting record levels of new COVID cases, with more than 20,000 on four of the last five days as of Tuesday.

The number of hospital inpatients with the virus has been climbing steadily since the start of January, but with omicron causing a smaller percentage of serious illnesses than previous variants, COVID-related ICU use has remained relatively stable.

Humble said the omicron variant has spread so quickly, and so many people have immunity from previous infection or vaccination, that the virus is on the verge of running out of potential hosts.

“I think it’s going drop like a rock. Once the virus ends up infecting the last susceptible person, it’s got nowhere else to go except breakthrough. And that’s going to keep happening,” he said.

“I mean, this [COVID] isn’t ever going away. The emergency is going to go away.”

Here’s the latest data on the pandemic in Arizona (hospital, case, death, testing and vaccination statistics are based on Tuesday morning’s update of the Arizona Department of Health Services COVID-19 dashboard; seven-day averages are based on tracking by The New York Times):

COVID-19 cases

  • Documented pandemic total – 1,645,694
  • Daily new reports – Tuesday: 23,836; One day earlier: 12,066; One week earlier: 14,160; Pandemic high: 24,982 (Jan. 15, 2022)
  • Seven-day average – Monday: 18,634; One day earlier: 18,901; One week earlier: 12,403; Pandemic high: 18,901 (Jan. 16, 2022)

COVID-19 deaths

  • Documented pandemic total – 25,395
  • Daily new reports – Tuesday: 183; One day earlier: 1; One week earlier: 213; Pandemic high: 335 (Jan. 12, 2021)
  • Seven-day average – Monday: 55; One day earlier: 63: One week earlier: 60; Pandemic high: 175 (Jan. 13, 2021)

COVID-19 hospitalizations

  • COVID inpatients – Monday: 3,228; One day earlier: 3,147; One week earlier: 2,869; Pandemic high: 5,082 (Jan. 11, 2021)
  • COVID ICU patients – Monday: 619; One day earlier: 616; One week earlier: 650; Pandemic high: 1,183 (Jan. 11, 2021)

Statewide hospital capacity

  • Inpatients beds available – Monday: 551 (6% of capacity); One day earlier: 496 (6%); One week earlier: 488 (6%)
  • Percentage of inpatient beds with COVID patients – Monday: 37%; One day earlier: 36%; One week earlier: 33%
  • ICU beds available – Monday: 92 (6% of capacity); One day earlier: 95 (6%); One week earlier: 89 (5%)
  • Percentage of ICU beds with COVID patients – Monday: 37%; One day earlier: 37%; One week earlier: 39%

Laboratory diagnostic testing

  • Weekly percent positivity – Samples taken this week: 32%; Last week: 33%; Two weeks ago: 29%; Pandemic high (for a completed week): 33% (Jan. 9-15, 2022)
  • Find a testing site: ADHS (statewide)


  • Percentage of eligible Arizonans fully vaccinated – As of Tuesday: 59.5%
  • Percentage of eligible Arizonans with at least one shot – As of Tuesday: 71.6%
  • Find a vaccine site: ADHS (statewide); Maricopa County Public Health (metro Phoenix)

Additional details

The ADHS daily case and death updates can cover multiple days of reporting because of data processing procedures and aren’t meant to represent the actual activity over the previous 24 hours. The hospitalization numbers posted each morning are reported electronically the previous evening by hospitals across the state.

The actual caseload is likely higher than officially reported 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.

Vaccines have proven to reduce the likelihood of a COVID infection causing serious illness or death, even with the highly contagious omicron variant.

The minimum age for vaccination is 5 for Pfizer and 18 for Moderna or Johnson & Johnson. Boosters are approved, and highly encouraged, for individuals who received their second Pfizer (ages 12 and up only) or Moderna doses at least five months ago or the Johnson & Johnson shot at least two months ago.

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Arizona expert says end of COVID public health emergency could be near