Cases of COVID-19 are on the rise again in Arizona as the Delta variant continues to spread. On Wednesday, there were 1,945 new cases reported and 21 new deaths. Just half, 50.7% of Arizonans are now vaccinated. Intensive care unit bed usage by COVID-19 patients is rising, now at 11% from 8% last week and 13% of ICU beds remain available.
This information comes from the Arizona Department of Health Services’ (ADHS) COVID-19 data dashboard.
Delta Variant in Arizona
Although overall COVID-19 hospitalization are down, the highly transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19 now has a strong foothold in Arizona, making up 20% of all cases in June and gaining traction, according to AZMirror. Genetic sequencing done by TGen shows that the variant only accounted for 3% of cases in May but increased dramatically in June.
According to the Bee, Kingman Regional Medical Center (KRMC) announced last week that it has seen a rise in hospitalizations due to the Delta variant and warned if the trend continues, hospital resources may be severely impacted. The KRMC intensive care unit currently has eight COVID-19 patients with three on ventilators, leading the ICU to be at capacity with ancillary space being added.
The ABC15 Health Insider Dr Shad Marvasti and the director of Public Health and Prevention at the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix confirms the public risk is now much higher.
The Delta variant is spreading so rapidly, it’s doubling every two weeks, that in about 6-8 weeks, not only will it be dominant variant in the United States and in and Arizona, but we’ll also have more data to see what percentage of fully vaccinated people actually get it, how sick can they get.
Dr. Marvasti also said that it is quite reasonable that vaccinated people choose to wear a mask in indoor, crowded spaces. This comes after the Arizona State Legislature quietly outlawed mask mandates on any state school campuses, universities, public K-12 and charters. Heidi Vega, spokeswoman for the Arizona School Boards Association told the East Valley Tribune the concern in schools isn’t over, especially with the presence of highly transmissible variants:
Districts and school boards are now powerless to implement any mask measures without the legislature say so even if the CDC recommends. This will cause problems in the fall with the Legislature out of session.
Arizona Public Health Association executive director Will Humble was more direct:
Its harmful, it’s ill-advised. They know it’s harmful — they being [ADHS] director Cara Christ and Governor Ducey. They wanted to flex their muscles and so they made sure that that was put into the budget reconciliation bill and now districts and parents are going to have to live with it.
On the other hand, a Valleywise Health unit that was created to accommodate COVID-19 patients in March 2020 is now empty. Valleywise Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Michael White told 12News (video) that this doesn’t mean the pandemic is over for the health system:
We continue to be worried, continue to watch and continue to have this unit ready if we see an increase in the number of patients.
It appears that low vaccination rates are driving the national spike in COVID-19 cases, as nearly half of the states are experiencing increases in cases over the past week, according to Modern Healthcare. Some of those states also have the lowest vaccination rates, like Missouri where the rate of new cases is at 127 per 100,000 residents. Only 46% of Missouri is vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But Arizona and Missouri are picky about the federal help they receive. According to ABC News, Missouri requested federal help last week from the “surge response” team, but shortly after the Missouri Parson tweeted:
I have directed our health department to let the federal government know that sending government employees or agents door-to-door to compel vaccination would NOT be an effective or a welcome strategy in Missouri!
The governor later added that Missouri isn’t in a “crisis” and that “we are not in a crisis mode in this state and we shouldn’t be right now.”
National Nurses United, the largest union of registered nurses in the country, is asking the CDC to reestablish its recommendation for masks in public regardless of vaccination status, Modern Healthcare reports.
We’re concerned that people have a false sense of security with the CDC recommendations and nurses see every single day that people are becoming very lax [about] wearing masks.
Both Pfizer and BioNTech, manufacturers of two mRNA vaccines currently authorized for use in the U.S. raised some alarms when they said they hoped to begin conducting clinical trials in August for a new booster shot that would combat the Delta variant. Inside Health Policy reports that the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said it believes a third booster would be needed within six months to a year following full vaccination with the two-dose regimen.
But the CDC and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) disagree, releasing a statement late last Thursday asserting that they do not have evidence enough to recommend COVID-19 booster shots.
Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster at this time.
The agencies added that the FDA, CDC and National Institutes of Health are using a scientific and rigorous process to determine if and when the booster may be necessary, and they have not reached that conclusion at this time.
Read the full statement from HHS here.