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Has this COVID surge peaked? ASU expert weighs in

COVID-19 hospital
Posted at 3:58 PM, Jan 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-20 20:32:35-05

Despite a recent downturn reported in some COVID-19 hospitalization metrics, an Arizona State University expert is warning the state may yet to see the peak of this surge.

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As of Wednesday, the state's coronavirus dashboard showed 4,663 COVID-19 inpatients at Arizona hospitals. That number has generally been declining since hitting a peak on January 11, with 5,082. ICU patients have also seen a slight decline over the same time frame.

"Those numbers fluctuate day-to-day," said Dr. Joshua LaBaer, executive director of ASU's Biodesign Institute. "I wouldn't read too much into a little bit here and a little bit there. There is going to be day-to-day fluctuation and I'm not convinced that we're really seeing a reliable reduction in ICU usage or in hospitalization yet."

Dr. LaBaer said their forecasting models have pointed to the end of January or early February as a key time for this surge.

"So far the numbers have lined up well with our model," he said. "[It] has predicted that somewhere at the end of January and early February, I wouldn't call it a peak, but I might call it the beginnings of a plateau."

With 11,528 COVID-19 deaths in Arizona, and counting, Dr. LaBaer said it could surpass cancer and heart disease as the leading cause of death in a 12-month timeframe. He said those account for roughly 12,000 deaths a year.

Indeed, according to information from the Arizona Department of Health Services, heart disease was the leading cause of death in Arizona in 2017, accounting for 12,285 deaths.

"Please remember that even though the vaccine has hit thousands of arms already, the number of vaccines that have gone out has no impact, no appreciable impact, on the spread of virus," Dr. LaBaer said. "It will take many, many more vaccinations before we start to see an appreciable reduction in the spread of virus."

Dr. LaBaer also noted the number of people seeking out COVID-19 tests has waned. He stressed the importance of getting people tested as much as possible.