August is projecting to be a difficult month in Arizona as COVID-19 cases and deaths are surging as summer closes and school begins.
The delta variant has become the more dominant coronavirus variant and is responsible for more than 75% of positive cases in Arizona.
According to The Gerald Report, an accumulation of data for Maricopa County by researchers at UArizona in Tucson is now experiencing 50 deaths per week. This amount will increase in the coming weeks and could exceed 100 per week by the middle to end of August.
"What we have been kind of warning about is happening," said Ross Goldberg, MD, the first-former president of the Arizona Medical Association. "The original, wild-type strain, if you got it you can infect like 2-3 people. Well now if you get the delta variant you can infect 5-9 people."
The delta variant has a high viral load, meaning there is more of the virus in an infected person's body than the novel coronavirus. Even vaccinated individuals can carry and pass on the delta variant to others in the community.
"If you’re vaccinated you may have enough virus in you that you’re basically at the same level as someone who is unvaccinated," said Goldberg.
"The great thing is they’re not getting as sick, but the tragedy is they’re able to transmit that illness to people who have not immunized," said Andrew Carroll, MD, a family physician in the Valley. "And I don’t know when it’s going to stop, and the fact that people who have had the vaccine can pick up the illness even though they won’t get as sick, are going to be sick and home and not working."
The Gerald Report says as of July 28, 335 (22%) of Arizona’s 1,726 ICU beds were occupied with COVID-19 patients, a 41% increase from the prior week’s count of 237 patients (Figure 4 and Figure 5 Panel B). An additional 186 (13%) ICU beds remained available for use, lower than last week’s 217 beds.
According to the Arizona Department of Public Health, in June, 92.4% of the 12,911 reported COVID-19 cases were among those who weren’t vaccinated or weren’t fully vaccinated.
Since the beginning of the year, approximately 99% of COVID-19 deaths in Arizona were individuals who were not fully vaccinated.
The number of virus patients occupying hospital beds topped 1,000 for the third straight day, with 1,106 as of Friday. That's double the number one month earlier on June 30.