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Arizona hospitals 'cautiously optimistic' as latest wave of COVID continues moving through the state

Some COVID-19 data is trending in a better direction as Arizona's healthcare leaders look ahead to the fall and winter.

ARIZONA, USA — Hospitals around the state are still filled with COVID-19 patients, but some numbers are trending in a better direction.

Statewide inpatient numbers trending down

Data from the Arizona Department of Health Services shows that the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 is trending down.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Dr. Marjorie Bessel, Chief Clinical Officer with Banner Health said.

Dr. Michael White, Chief Clinical Officer for Valleywise Health said their percent positivity on the tests they’re conducting on patients is also dropping.

“This is one of those areas that I call a ‘leading indicator’. This will help us then see hopefully see a decrease in the utilization of hospital beds, and a decrease in the utilization in healthcare resources for the treatment of COVID-19 disease,” White said.

Still, hospitals around the state are busy

White reported that Valleywise has been experiencing a plateau, with a consistent number of patients in the hospital for COVID.

Dr. Derek Feuquay, Chief Medical Officer for Northern Arizona Healthcare said over his 12-year tenure with the organization, this wave of COVID has brought more people inconsistently to the hospital than before.

“This is the longest we’ve stayed at a census this high for the past month,” Feuquay said.

Feuquay said that even with the past year and a half of the pandemic bringing new challenges, lately, patients are more severe – even patients who aren’t coming in with COVID.

“The acuity is so high. So while you’ll have a few COVID patients on your list who are certainly sick, then the next patient you see is just someone you see is someone with 10 active problems who’s so ill,” Feuquay said. “That’s what takes it out of you. There’s no ‘easy’ patients anymore.”

Staffing continues to be a problem for Arizona hospitals. Feuquay said their organization is needing staff across various positions. White said Valleywise Health is consistently down 15 or more nurses a day.

"We’re actually running at physical capacity right now,” Feuquay said.

Feuquay said they’re expecting more staff coming from the state to help add some additional nurses to help out.

“We are going to be able to open up a little bit of extra area,” Feuquay said. “Which our hope would be to unload some other places in the hospital, help our emergency department.”

However, Feuquay said they’re still making room to care for any patients that need care.

“Don’t forgo care because you think that we’re full or you’re going to come to the hospital and get COVID,” Feuquay said. “Please come in sooner rather than later so we can take care of you.”  

COVID spike and severe flu season expected

While some good news of inpatient use is dropping, Bessel warns models Banner Health uses are seeing more patients coming in as soon as next month.

The leaders say they are expecting a more severe flu season, especially in comparison to last year, which was almost a non-existent flu season.

Bessel said people resuming more normal activities unmasked will likely lead to further spread of the flu, and a COVID-19 spike as well.
Bessel said models are currently predicting a peak in January.

“Our projections is our hospitals will be under quite a bit of stress and strain due to those increased numbers,” Bessel said.

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