Available ICU beds decreasing in Arizona hospitals as COVID-19 surges

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The number of available adult intensive care unit beds across the state has dropped to levels not seen since the height of the summer coronavirus surge.

As of Monday, there are 175 available adult ICU beds in Arizona, according to the state's dashboard. Currently, 27% of all ICU beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients.

Unlike during the summer surge, there are now more non-COVID patients in Arizona hospitals. Data and health experts have warned that can further stress the system, as it takes fewer COVID patients to overwhelm hospitals as compared to the summer.

"Having qualified nursing staff to staff those beds that is the biggest concern," said Dr. Matthew Heinz, a hospital physician in Tucson. "Hospitals are doing everything they can to expand capacity like they did over the summer, but that curve is going up very, very steeply."

Dr. Heinz said he's seen a notable uptick in the number of sick patients he's seen.

"A lot of COVID," he said. "A lot of sick people."

On Monday, the state department of health services did not provide detailed information on available ICU beds, referring to an executive order that keeps specific hospital and patient information confidential.

An associate professor for the University of Arizona, who compiles weekly COVID-19 modeling reports, warned Monday the state is in for a tough stretch.

"We are now entering what was the worst of our experience this summer," said Dr. Joe Gerald. "We have a terrible two-to-three weeks ahead of us. If we don't make changes to our behaviors and our policies, the three weeks after that will be even worse."

Models released last week showed Arizona hospitals could become severely strained by mid-December.

Dr. Gerald noted a vaccine is not far away, but that doesn't help current conditions, which have gotten worse in recent weeks.

"To lose control to this degree so close to the finish line really is a tragedy," he said.

While the numbers fluctuate, on Monday during a virtual news conference with University of Arizona officials, the Pima County Health Director said they have single-digit ICU beds available.

To that end, a spokesperson for Tucson Medical Center told ABC15 their COVID ICU has been "at or near capacity" in recent days. They also confirmed that Monday morning there was only one available staffed COVID ICU bed, noting the numbers constantly change and they have used the Arizona Surge Line as needed.