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Data shows Arizona COVID-19 hospital trends at critical junction

Posted at 5:38 PM, Jan 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-10 23:02:25-05

PHOENIX — Arizona may be at a critical point when it comes to understanding how the omicron variant of COVID-19 will impact the state's hospitals.

Sunday’s seven day moving average of cases hit a pandemic record with a confirmed daily average of 12,439 cases. Data from New York, which is about two weeks ahead of Arizona in omicron infections, suggests that the case surge will continue.

These statistics lead to the next question: How could the surge impact the state’s hospitalizations?

COVID-19 Bed Occupancy

Self-reported figures from Arizona’s hospital systems show a rise in COVID-19 inpatient occupancy. The number has climbed 21% since the end of December.

Meanwhile, ICU bed use has decreased in the same time frame. Does this mean that the state’s hospitals will dodge a similar scenario to last winter when around 60% of capacity was taken up by COVID-19 patients?

The short answer is, it’s too early to tell.

The chart below takes COVID-19 cases and hospitalization trends and fits them to deaths by placing them on the same scale and shifting each forward several days.

Its most important function is to give an idea of how COVID-19 data has largely tracked together since the beginning of the pandemic.

A troubling scenario would be hospitalizations and deaths continuing to follow this pattern and experience a similar meteoric rise as the confirmed case count.

This would mean hospitalizations would easily surpass the 60% occupancy level as last winter and the daily COVID-19 death count would get close to 200.

Zooming the chart in to December 2021 and focusing only on inpatient hospitalizations and cases shows that hospitalizations have reached a junction in which the trendlines will either begin to track or diverge from cases.

Since reported COVID-19 deaths most likely occur in hospitals, deaths would be expected to track closer to that trendline as opposed to confirmed case counts.

There are some early signs that regardless of what inpatient trends do, deaths may rise at a slower pace.

The ratio of COVID-19 ICU patients to all COVID-19 patients in the state fell in December from 21.7% to 17.49%.

New York City, well into the omicron surge and is possibly peaking, has an ICU rate of 12.5%.

According to the self-reported data, Arizona’s bed capacity is holding at just under 95%, where it largely has been since the middle of December.

To keep from being overwhelmed, hospitals will likely continue taking measures like suspending elective surgeries as COVID-19 admissions continue to increase.