COVID-19 variant the wild card as Arizona comes down from latest surge

There are emerging variants of COVID-19 – like in the U.K. and South Africa -  which the lab is now in the process of getting, to begin testing on those.
Posted at 5:30 PM, Feb 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-12 19:31:50-05

PHOENIX — As hospital metrics continue to improve in Arizona, doctors are bracing for how emerging coronavirus variants could affect cases and hospitalizations in the coming weeks.

One of the new strains, known as the UK variant, has already been found in Arizona. The strain is considered more contagious.

"It's a day-to-day thing," said Dr. Frank LoVecchio, an emergency physician in the Valley. "You're trying to predict staffing, you're trying to predict beds, everything, based upon yesterday's data."

Doctors and data experts have expressed concern about the variant, indicating it is of utmost importance to vaccinate people quickly to try and head off any additional surge.

"Am I worried about it? Not as worried as I was before we had the vaccine," Dr. LoVecchio said. "I'm optimistic that we'll beat this. This is, kind of like a small curveball and we've already faced, like, the big snowball."

Arizona's former Emergency Management Director Wendy Smith-Reeve, who is now an ABC15 analyst, said planning is key.

"It's learning from other countries that have seen a greater impact as a result of the variant than we have yet to date," Smith-Reeve said.

Smith-Reeve said there are takeaways from the two surges of COVID-19 cases that have already hit Arizona.

"I think the biggest lesson learned is that there was no long-term planning," Smith-Reeve said. "So we were behind the curve."

The state's largest health system, Banner Health is also working to prepare for the wild card that is the emerging coronavirus variants.

"I think there's just a ton of uncertainty and we have to just be OK with that," said Banner Health Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Marjorie Bessel. "So, many of the plans that we put into place, we're stepping down. We have those on the shelf, ready to go again if we need to."

Dr. Bessel told ABC15 it is important that the decreasing numbers of COVID cases are driven even lower.

"The game is always to get them as low as possible before you might have another bump," Dr. Bessel said. "We didn't get as low as we wished we could have in the fall before the big surge came. So, let's get as low as we possibly can, that always helps, so whatever's in your forecast, you start from a launch place that's very low."