COVID-19 cases are on the upswing again in Arizona. For Wednesday, July 21, there were 1,043 new cases reported bringing the total case count to 911,479. There were 10 new deaths, and the total of COVID-19 related deaths in Arizona is now 18,127. The statewide vaccination percentage rests at 51.2%. Adult intensive care unit bed use is also increasing, with 13% of ICU beds in use for COVID-19 patients across the state. 13% of ICU beds remain available.
This information comes from the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) COVID-19 data dashboard.
Exponential Growth Ahead?
According to Arizona Public Health Association executive director Will Humble, “it’s now crystal clear” that cases are on the rise in the form of an exponential growth curve. Citing University of Arizona Zuckerman College of Public Health associate professor Dr. Joe Gerald’s weekly report, Humble notes that there was a 48% week-over-week increase between the first and second weeks of July.
For historical reference, the last time Arizona recorded this level of transmission on an upward trajectory was October 18, 2020 when 6330 cases were reported. Unlike the update earlier this week, which suggested slowly worsening conditions, this week’s changes makes it likely that Arizona will soon experience case rates > 100 per 100K residents per week marking a transition from substantial to high levels of transmission.
Last Wednesday, Arizona reported a remarkably high daily number of COVID-19 infections — 1,945, the worst in four months. But ADHS was quick to call it a reporting error, the consequence of a “bug” that prevented results from some case reports over the prior two days from being accurately logged. According to Modern Healthcare, ADHS spokesman Steve Elliot said the additions “do not represent a trend.”
ADHS Director Dr. Cara Christ did admit that there has been a rise in cases in an interview with AZCentral last Thursday.
It’s definitely an uptick in cases. You’ve got a more highly transmissible variant that we know is in Arizona. We still have a number of unvaccinated individuals.
That “number” of unvaccinated Arizonans is currently over 3 million.
According to the same article, hospitalizations and ICU bed use in Arizona has also been on the rise, but are still far from levels seen this past winter. Hospitals in Show Low, Kingman and Phoenix reported jumps in hospitalizations which include increases in critically ill patients and in intensive care.
Navajo County Health Department has identified 24 cases linked to a single country dance at the White Mountain Square Dance Hall on the evening of June 11. According to the Arizona Republic, this is the largest outbreaks of COVID-19 since May. Dance hall leaders said most of those who tested positive had not been vaccinated. Several people became seriously ill and two have died.
The White Mountain Rim Rompers Square Dance Club will close the doors of the dance hall until May 2022. According to Candace Starr, music coordinator for the dance hall, many people were unhappy with the decision.
Nobody wants to wear masks. We’re inside. And the other thing is the fact that I would say probably two-thirds of our dancers are not vaccinated and don’t believe in it. And that’s their choice. We’re not going to take anyone’s rights away. But I also think that if you are going to do that, then you have to realize we have to close the hall because you are putting people in danger that way. And I know they are not happy about the hall being closed either, but it’s like, you know, you don’t get it both ways.
Governor Ducey and School Policy
Governor Doug Ducey’s Education Policy Advisor Kaitlin Harrier sent two letters to the Peoria Unified School District last week, claiming the districts’ policy of requiring unvaccinated students exposed to the COVID-19 virus to quarantine is unlawful. Both districts said that they are following guidance from the Arizona Department of Health Services, which states people should quarantine for 14 days if they’ve been in close contact with a person who tested positive.
State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman disagreed with the governor in a letter to 12News, arguing that quarantining is one of the only tools that schools have left to keep schools safe during in-person learning.
I am tired of Arizona’s public schools being a leverage point for the Governor’s political conversation on COVID-19 that growingly has nothing to do with science or public health.
Will Humble agreed in his June 15 post Ducey’s Staff Tells School Districts They Can’t Temporarily Exclude Unvaccinated Close Contacts of COVID Cases This Fall, in which he points out that the authority for controlling communicable diseases in schools rests with the county health departments and not the governor’s education policy advisor.
So, what is a county health department supposed to do when there’s a COVID-19 outbreak in a school? The county health department’s decisions about isolation and quarantine are supposed to be consistent with the ADHS’ disease specific communicable disease rules – whether the exposure is at a school or elsewhere in the community.
A big problem is that, astonishingly, after more than 16 months, the ADHS (under Director Christ’s leadership) hasn’t updated their communicable disease rules to define school or community control measures for COVID-19!
Rare Disorder Emerges Among Some Vaccinated Against COVID-19
Nine Arizonans who received the COVID-19 vaccine reportedly experienced a rare condition in which the immune system attacks the nerves, called Guillain-Barré syndrome. According to ADHS, cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome are not limited to a specific vaccine. Four who reported the illness received the Pfizer vaccine, four the Moderna and one received the Janssen vaccine, AZFamily reports.
The Food and Drug Administration said in its update for July 20 that last week it held a stakeholder call to discuss the COVID-19 vaccines including preliminary reports of Guillain-Barré syndrome following Janssen vaccination. From Director of FDA’s CBER, Dr. Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D.:
One of the things that’s important to realize is that COVID-19 is a much worse disease than any of these rare risk factors here. And it’s always always hard as a healthy individual to contemplate taking something that could have a side effect, the problem is COVID-19 is very real and is very much still with us.