Hospitalizations across the state are on the rise due to the extended surge related to the Delta variant of the coronavirus. Only 7% of intensive care unit beds are available statewide and 38% are in use by COVID-19 patients, a new high since February 2021.
On Wednesday, December 1, 2021, Arizona reported 3,163 new cases of COVID-19 and 43 new deaths related to the coronavirus. This brings the total of deaths statewide to 22,350. Only 62.4% of Arizonans are fully vaccinated.
This information comes from the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) COVID-19 data dashboard.
Dr. Michael White, chief medical officer for Valleywise Health, said in a press conference on Wednesday that of the 44 COVID-19 patients at Valleywise Hospital, 42 are unvaccinated and most of them are younger than previous patient groups:
We are seeing younger and younger people ending up being very sick, on ventilators in our ICUs, critically ill from COVID-19.
Raymond Embry, CEO of Embry Health, which operates dozens of testing clinics throughout the Phoenix metro area, has said his test sites have seen an increase of 2,000 to 3,000 tests being given each day, according to ABC15. Health Insider Dr. Shad Marvasti notes the trends in increased cases is likely to trend upwards into next month due to holiday travel.
It’s absolutely concerning. It’s not about just testing. It’s a real increase in the numbers and it’s because we never really went all the way back down in the numbers before Delta.
There have been a much higher number of severe COVID-19 cases in rural areas this fall, disrupting the delivery of care for non-COVID-19 patients. According to the Daily Independent, a patient on dialysis and another with congestive heart failure died waiting for care at the Copper Queen Community Hospital in Bisbee. From Dr. Marjorie Bessel, chief clinical officer at Banner Health:
Less COVID patients allow us to take care of non-COVID patients as well. What we know is that the vaccine prevents disease, hospitalization, the need for intensive care and the need to be placed on a ventilator. The vaccine will also keep you healthy and help you not miss out on the holidays.
Cochise County health officials reported low resources for its hospitals, as well as struggles with nursing shortages. According to U.S. News, patients without COVID-19 were waiting for up to 96 hours for transfer to larger hospitals with higher levels of care.
Rural areas are also struggling to keep up with the need for ambulances in emergency medical situations. According to the Williams-Grand Canyon News, Life Line Ambulance response times have become so long that the Williams Police Chief, Herman Nixon, filed a complaint with the Arizona Department of Health Services. Life Line is the only certified ground medical transport in Williams, and Nixon alleges that it has become common for patients to wait up to 90 minutes for an ambulance to respond to a call.
Long-term care providers nationwide are struggling with a shortage of ambulance operators, exacerbating the consequences of the already-severe nursing and caregiver shortage, according to McKnight’s. The ambulance service backlog leaves nursing homes and hospitals with no choice but to seek out other ways to provide EMS transport for residents and patients, like the fire department and private car services.
Some Arizona health systems like Mayo Clinic and Dignity Health are pivoting to telemedicine in order to assist patients from their homes, freeing up beds and support staff in facilities. Home hospital programs are voluntary for patients, who are then able to receive treatment from providers who visit them in their homes and check in via video conference or telephone call, according to AZCentral.
The Phoenix City Council will hold a public session regarding its vaccine mandate for all municipal employees. Last week, the city announced that all employees would be required to be vaccinated by January 18 or face potential consequences, according to KTAR. Initially, the decision was made during an executive session of the council without a public hearing.
Governor Doug Ducey’s effort to use COVID-19 relief funds for a private school voucher program for parents who disagree with mask mandates in schools has funded fewer than 100 vouchers, despite receiving 2,000 applications, according to U.S. News. Parents have spent less than $50,000 through the program, according to records obtained by the Arizona Republic.