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Experts: State hospitals could hit capacity in July

Researchers suggest stronger interventions now to avoid overwhelming medical facilities
Posted at 9:39 PM, Jun 15, 2020

As the transmission of coronavirus increases in Arizona, hospitals could reach their licensed bed capacity in about a month, according to several data experts.

In his June 12 weekly report, University of Arizona researcher Joe Gerald wrote coronavirus hospitalizations have risen 70 percent in just three weeks.

"What that is doing is pressing on the available number of beds in total in the state," ABC15 Data Guru Garrett Archer said.

Hospitals have carefully managed their total bed space, but it's still creeping up. The Arizona Department of Health Services' website shows 82 percent of licensed ICU beds were filled statewide, as well as 83 percent of inpatient beds.

Hospitals could still expand into surge capacity, which includes 600 ICU and 2600 inpatient beds statewide. Hospitals also report having the necessary equipment to care for those patients, however staffing is a more difficult issue.

Gerald cautioned while the efforts of medical staff in surge situations may be "heroic," it's not the same level of care as patients would typically see in a hospital. He explained patients and staff would have to cope with "jury-rigged settings" and "nurses and physicians recruited from non-critical specialties."

Gerald indicated surge capacity may be needed in July. Archer's data analysis showed a similar timeline.

"The data shows if the current trends continue how they have been, we should be at licensed capacity for ICU beds (100 percent) by 30 days or so," Archer said.

Arizona State University's coronavirus modelers are also putting out a new report this week. They calculated significant decreases in hospitalizations and deaths if significant interventions begin in June to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The researchers did not specify which interventions would be preferable. However, they did recognize deficiencies in how individuals carry out existing recommendations. According to the ASU report, some people are reluctant to wear a mask and social distance themselves. Others can't afford or can't find the masks and disinfecting supplies they need.

Gerald characterized the state’s current approach to the pandemic as "callous and unreasonable indifference to Arizonans’ well-being," and he said, at a minimum, masks should be mandatory in public spaces.