Arizona’s new COVID-19 surge starting with already diminished hospital capacity

Posted at 5:22 PM, Nov 08, 2021

PHOENIX — From Friday to Sunday, Arizona health officials reported over 3,000 COVID-19 cases each day. That number is down slightly today at 2,657, but the last time the state had over four consecutive reporting days that high was September 1 to September 5, which corresponds to the period when the summer COVID-19 surge settled into a plateau.

Trends are moving in the wrong direction. The 14-day average of newly added cases has risen for eight consecutive days resulting in an 18% increase in cases during that time alone.

Unlike case numbers from early September, confirmed COVID-19 infections are increasing steadily for all age group categories tracked by the Arizona Department of Health Services.

On average, age groups have added eight daily infections per capita since this time last month. About 65% of positive COVID-19 tests are still coming from Arizonans under 45, slightly higher than their total pandemic share of 63%. At the height of the summer surge in mid-August, younger people made up 75% of daily reported infections.

The reason to track COVID-19 cases during any surge is they inevitably lead to a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations. What is unique about the most recent rise is that Arizona is already seeing higher hospital occupancy rates than at the start of any of the other surges.

The state’s hospital systems reported to the health department that only 11 of the past 100 days had bed availability rates at or slightly above 10%. That same metric for ICUs saw only 13 out of the last 100 days of reporting. Last winter’s surge had similar rates of bed availability but only for 60 days.

COVID-19 projections from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health metrics forecast that at the peak of this surge the state should only need about 70% of the COVID-19 beds needed for the winter surge. The forecast does not consider bed capacity for non-COVID healthcare issues.

COVID-19 hospitalizations are already on the rise in Arizona. Inpatient bed use has risen from 1,842 beds on October 31 to 1,943 beds yesterday, an almost 9% increase.