Arizona ER doctors encouraged by COVID trends, cautious about potential surge

Posted at 10:24 PM, Aug 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-29 18:22:07-04

The coronavirus numbers in Arizona have been steadily trending in right direction, however, ER doctors say it is not time to celebrate, but instead double down.

Friday brought the lowest number of COVID-19 patients on ventilators since hospitals began reporting the data, according to AZDHS. It was also the lowest number of patients in ICU beds since April.

The numbers are a stark difference from early July.

"It was almost like a war zone," said Dr. Andrew Carroll, who spent the past month admitting patients to Banner Estrella Medical Center's Emergency Room. Dr. Carroll, one of many frontline healthcare workers who says the conditions have dramatically changed.

"It seemed like every patient had COVID, and there were people in the hallways who had COVID-19," said Dr. Frank LoVecchio, who works at the Valleywise ER and others across the Valley. "Now we are actually discharging more patients with COVID-19 than we are admitting. So it's really good."

LoVecchio says the social distancing, masks, and shutdown of large congregation areas have all been significant factors in slowing the spread. He also says that so much more is now known about the virus. So people have less fear and are quicker to schedule a telehealth appointment, as opposed to rushing into the nearest ER.

"I think what we are seeing is people not coming in as quickly," he said.

"We're seeing many fewer COVID patients, and most of the COVID patients that we are seeing are not as ill," said Dr. Kara Geren, an ER doctor with Valleywise. "People are trying to get COVID tests other places."

But most doctors are trepidatious about the upcoming weeks.

"I know the city is opening up again," said Dr. LoVecchio. "It's going to bump up again. There's no way it doesn't bump up again in two weeks, and we have to watch for that. I think we're ready."

"It took us so long to get to this point. It took us two to three months to get past this big surge," said Dr. Carroll. "What I really hope is people remain smart...If we go to the bars, stay separated. Have a good time, but take proper precautions. Otherwise, we are just going to end up back where we had been."

"I think everyone is just waiting for the next big wave. Especially as the flu comes out," said Dr. Geren.

Flu season, which doctors have become accustomed to every year, is now a serious cause for concern.

"It's going to be tough to distinguish the two," said LoVecchio. "Normally, the hospitals are at capacity. We fill up. That's before COVID-19."

The medical experts are hopeful that masks and distancing will successfully minimize both viruses.

If not, the doctors will again be in for long shifts of running from bed to bed, checking on patients hooked up to ventilators, isolated from loved ones.

"It's good that it has gone down, but I think everybody knows that this is not over," said Dr. Geren.