As the new year approaches, Arizona hospitals and healthcare professionals are gearing up for a new wave of COVID-19 patients to flood the intensive care units and emergency departments that have endured near-capacity numbers since the Delta variant took hold over the summer. Without respite from the prior wave and increased transmission among Arizonans 20-39 years-old, government officials and hospital administrators continue to plead with the public to receive vaccination.
According to Dr. Joe Gerald, MD, PhD, associate professor at the Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona in his weekly COVID-19 Disease Outbreak Outlook, high rates of test positivity show evidence of a looming spike in hospitalizations:
Given how quickly the Omicron variant impacted the United Kingdom and the US Northeast, Arizona is poised to experience another large wave of infections in January with increased hospitalizations lagging 10-14 days later.
Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) interim director Don Herrington enumerated a number of “things to keep in mind” for the public in the ADHS Director’s Blog. These include that Omicron is more likely to cause breakthrough infections and is more transmissible than previous variants, and that there is still a great deal that is unknown about the severity of symptoms associated with the variant. He also reiterated that the vaccine does hold efficacy against the new variant.
I’m pleased to see the growing body of knowledge suggesting that vaccines and boosters are continuing to prove their effectiveness at protecting people from severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Any hospital will tell you that the vast majority of COVID-19 patients in their intensive care units and requiring the most care in emergency rooms and in-patient beds aren’t vaccinated.
In a press conference Tuesday, Dr. Marjorie Bessel of Banner Health warned that the emergence of the Omicron variant has influenced changes in the hospital’s policy for treatment of COVID-19. Specifically, several monoclonal antibodies have reduced efficacy against the new variant. There is a different, efficacious monoclonal antibody — Sotrovimab — that Banner Health facilities are not supplied with at this time, but until they are provided, the health system will no longer use monoclonal antibodies in their treatment.
Dr. Bessel also noted that Banner is not distributing Paxlovid, the Pfizer antiviral pill, at this time due to short supply. She stressed that Paxlovid does demonstrate efficacy against all variants of COVID-19.
Dr. Michael White of Valleywise Health held a press conference on Tuesday and noted that the health system has seen an increase in the positivity rate of COVID-19 tests, which he believed is related to the recent dominance of the Omicron variant.
We have seen the testing rates be higher in other parts of the country that are not seeing an increase in hospitalizations. However, we’re fairly early and we’ll have to continue to monitor this over the next few weeks.
Dr. Richard Carmona, the 17th U.S. Surgeon General and Governor Doug Ducey’s special advisor on public health preparedness, released a public service announcement with the governor and ADHS encouraging Arizonans to receive the vaccine. In it, he stresses that hospitals are strained in large part due to unvaccinated patients experiencing increased severity of symptoms.
To protect yourself and to help hospitals care for everyone, we need more people to get the vaccine. It’s safe, free and extremely effective.
Governor Doug Ducey also appeared in the video to encourage vaccination, but continues to resist masking requirements in public areas. According to KJZZ, the governor tweeted that businesses are “NOT REQUIRED” to enforce mandates, in response to Pima County reimposing a mask requirement in public places.
Embry Health has seen a spike in the number of testing appointments, up 60% in a single week. KJZZ reports that there is an average of 13,000 people booking appointments with the health system every day. From Embry Health CEO Raymond Embry:
The surging in testing volume is not just because of the holidays, we really are seeing it align with the symptoms people are experiencing as well as exposure.
Kingman Regional Medical Center (KRMC) issued a press release published in the Bee in response to a number of inquiries regarding the use of the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin in the treatment of COVID-19. KRMC listed the medical associations and regulatory groups that have discouraged the administration of ivermectin in both inpatient and outpatient settings.