Arizona Governor Warns Worst of Virus Has Yet to Come

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey talks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington on April 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) — With his state among eight facing record numbers of Covid-19 cases daily, hospitals nearing capacity, and 1,490 people dead from the coronavirus, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey warned Thursday that the worst is yet to come.

Almost 90% of the state’s intensive care beds are full, leaving hospitals to consider the possibility of field hospitals in tents or churches, and the virus is spreading, not slowing.

“We expect that our numbers will be worse next week and the week following, in terms of cases and hospitalizations,” Ducey said during a news conference.

Statewide, 2,455 people were in hospitals with Covid-19 by Wednesday, 611 in intensive care and 415 on ventilators, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported. Only 198 of the state’s 1,443 intensive care beds were available. The state reported 3,056 new cases Thursday with a hospitalization rate of 7%.

Arizona’s largest hospital provider, Banner Health, is in a patient surge and beds are “starting to get full,” Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Marjorie Bessell said Thursday in a statement.

Banner has struggled with staffing but kept schedules full by turning to outside agencies. Bessell did not give numbers, but said plans are in place should the state exceed surge capacity, including field hospitals and alternate care sites such as churches.

People should not assume the increase in cases is only because of increased testing, said University of Arizona associate professor Purnima Madhivanan, an epidemiologist. The positivity rate, or the proportion of tests that come back positive, is more important.

“That positivity rate should be going down,” Madhivanan said. “It’s not. It’s going up.”

The only way to get a clear picture of the disease in Arizona is more testing, but that has been difficult on several levels. Some places have had trouble finding people to administer the tests, labs are taking a week to return results, and people who want testing don’t always get it.

“It’s a nightmare. People are waiting six hours, eight hours to be tested, and they still can’t be tested,” Madhivanan said.

Banner is prioritizing inpatients and people with symptoms over others, and test results are averaging five to seven days. The health care group is scheduling 1,000 Covid-19 test appointments daily statewide, Bessell said.

“We need more testing,” Bessell said. “We’ve needed more testing for a long period of time.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counted 34,313 new Covid-19 cases nationwide on Wednesday, for a total of 2.3 million with 121,117 deaths from 56 jurisdictions. The numbers are compiled from health departments in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Arizona has been largely open for business with some restrictions since Ducey gradually lifted a stay-at-home order to expire in May. Restaurants, bars and gyms have been open for dine-in service since May 11, although many businesses have ignored social distancing and mask requirements.

A Scottsdale bar, Riot House, was charged this week with social distancing violations, Ducey said, calling the businesses that violate mask or other requirements “bad actors” that are in the minority. The governor reached out to Arizona’s younger residents to do their part, even though their risk is lower than older people.

“I know many young people out there feel invincible, and statistically, on some of these worst-case scenarios, maybe you have some reason to feel that way,” Ducey said. “But your parents are not invincible.”

He urged everyone to wear masks in public, wash hands frequently and stay home, especially if they are sick.

Although other states, such as New York, were hit harder earlier, Arizona is just now seeing the main impact of the virus, and we can’t afford to let up efforts to contain it, Ducey said.

“This is Arizona’s first wave, and this will not be our last wave.”

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