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90% of COVID cases at Banner Health are people who are unvaccinated

Child cases have more than doubled between July and August.
Credit: Banner Health

PHOENIX — About 90% of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 at Banner Health's facilities in Arizona are unvaccinated, the system's top doctor said Wednesday. 

Dr. Marjorie Bessel, the Chief Medical Officer of Banner Health, said the system's hospitals are "very busy" and that they've had to bring in "hundreds" of travel nurses and respiratory therapists from out of state to handle the surge.

The surge is caused by the delta variant, and the daily count of cases for the state looks like it did in February; the 7-day new case average is 3,160 – higher than it was on Feb. 10. 

Pediatric cases are rising

Bessel said Banner Health is receiving more pediatric patient visits in its hospitals. 

"During the month of August, 412 pediatric patients at Banner hospitals were either admitted or placed in observation status with COVID or suspected COVID," Bessel said.

This is higher than the 174 pediatric patients Banner Health saw in July. 

Bessel stressed the importance of all students, teachers and staff in schools to wear masks and get vaccinated if eligible now that schools are back in session. 

The recommendation comes a day after the Maricopa County Department of Public Health released a report showing that 1 in 6 COVID-19 cases occurring in the county are from children under the age of 12. 

RELATED: New county report shows COVID rates soaring among children since school year started

Banner Health is not only concerned with high coronavirus cases among school-aged children but also the upcoming flu season.

Other-than-COVID cases are increasing, too

According to Bessel, Banner Health is seeing higher levels of both COVID and RSV cases among pediatric patients.

"Our pediatric population is also experiencing a high level of COVID, higher than what we've experienced previously," Bessel said, "as well as high levels of RSV, which is kind of early in the season."

Respiratory Syncytial Virus, more commonly known as RSV, is a virus that causes runny nose, coughing and fever according to the CDC. 

Bessel does note, however, that Arizona might be seeing a plateau in cases. 

Coronavirus cases in Arizona have increased since the beginning of July, as have hospitalizations due to the more transmissible Delta variant. She expects hospitalizations to continue to increase over the coming weeks.

RELATED: FDA gives full approval to Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine 

Banner Health is requiring all employees to be fully vaccinated from COVID-19 by Nov. 1. 

Bessel said the hospital is working with leaders and employees to encourage vaccination within the organization.

Bessel emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated during the press conference.

"Please get vaccinated as soon as possible. The vaccines are extremely effective in preventing serious illness and hospitalization." Bessel said.

Staffing struggles

Bessel said staffing is a continual need at Banner Health hospitals. Other hospitals and health care workers across Arizona have said they're struggling to get enough staffing as well. 

On Wednesday, Gov. Doug Ducey announced he's making $60 million available for hospital staffing. 

However, the funding for 750 nurses for eight weeks will only go to hospitals that provide monoclonal antibodies and vaccines to patients upon being discharged. The Governor's Office said hospitals must meet both criteria in order to receive the extra staffing help. 

The Governor's Office said the idea is to support hospitals using techniques that help decrease the number of people hospitalized with COVID. 

Monoclonal antibody therapy is for mild to moderate COVID cases. However, it's only approved to be used in those who are 12 and older and high-risk for severe COVID cases. Some examples of the high-risk conditions include diabetes, pregnancy, obesity and hypertension. The treatment also needs to be given within 10 days of COVID symptom onset. 

The funding is being distributed to the Arizona Department of Health Services who will provide nurses to hospitals who qualify. 

COVID-19 in Arizona

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