Arizona Spiking in Covid Patients Since Stay-at-Home Order Lifted

Medical transports and ambulances are parked outside the emergency-room entrance at Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa, Arizona, on Tuesday. That day, the number of new coronavirus cases in the state has hit a new daily high of nearly 2,400 — almost double the previous record. Hospital intensive care units were hovering around 80% capacity with 1,307 people with the virus as of Monday. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) — Hospitals across Arizona this week activated a cooperative “surge line” to quickly transfer patients and relieve pressure on a health care system facing a spike in Covid-19 hospitalizations since a statewide stay-at-home order was lifted May 15.

Governor Doug Ducey has attributed the spike in positive cases to an uptick in testing, meanwhile the number of Arizona patients hospitalized with Covid-19 has jumped since mid-May from 1,336 to 1,506, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

At Tucson Medical Center, a 600-plus bed urban hospital, 20 of 36 intensive care beds were occupied by Covid-19 patients Tuesday, and doctors were using the statewide triage surge line, said communication specialist Angela Pittenger.

“We have found the (surge line) to be quick and effective at locating an appropriate level of care for those patients we are not able to accommodate,” Pittenger said.

The state health department reported 2,392 new cases Tuesday – the highest single-day count of the pandemic.

Statewide, 353,991 tests had been reported by Tuesday with 39,097 (11%) of those positive. Maricopa County, home to metropolitan Phoenix and 4.5 million of the state’s 7.3 million residents, accounted for 20,775 of the positive tests and 586 of the state’s 1,219 deaths.

Pima County, where just under a million people live mostly in the Tucson area, had 4,329 positive tests by Tuesday, or just under 9% of 46,718 tests and 226 deaths, the state reported.

The number of Covid-19 cases has risen sharply since May 15, when Ducey lifted a stay-at-home order on businesses and thousands of restaurants, bars, salons, gyms and other non-essential businesses opened. On May 15, the health department reported 563 cases — one-fourth as many as Tuesday.

Ducey last week urged a “calm and steady” approach to the pandemic, reassuring residents that hospital capacity is available and suggesting his Covid response worked.

“The objective of that order was to slow the spread of this virus,” he said. “So the idea was to reduce the number of new cases from one day to the next to help prevent the heath care systems from becoming overwhelmed.”

They are not overwhelmed, he said.

In March, the state had 1,532 intensive care beds available. Today there are 1,657, plus 600 more temporary beds that can be activated as needed. The state also has plans to create thousands of new beds in the event of a major surge, he said.

On Tuesday, 80% of ICU beds were occupied statewide, as were 81% of standard beds, the health department reported.

Banner Health, Arizona’s largest health care provider, also offered an emailed statement Tuesday about hospital bed capacity.

“Our ICUs remain busy,” spokeswoman Rebecca Ruiz McGill wrote. “Banner Health has surge plans to manage an influx of patients, and per AzDHS and Governor Ducey’s orders, we are working to expand capacity through activation of those plans.”

Banner urges everyone to stay home if they are sick, wear masks in public, stay six feet from others, and wash hands frequently.

“This is a deadly virus, and we have an obligation to our communities to save as many lives as possible during this pandemic. We ask the community to help us,” she wrote.

Nationwide, the pandemic has claimed 116,140 lives, with 496 deaths reported Tuesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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