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Arizona poised to be in 'better position' with COVID-19 in near future, expert says

The state's health experts are optimistic that infection rates for the coronavirus may be on a downward trajectory through the end of 2021.

PHOENIX — It’s an unfortunate truth but the coronavirus is not disappearing anytime soon.

But how prevalent will the virus be in Arizona through the fall and winter months?

12 News spoke with an expert at the University of Arizona to find out how the pandemic might take shape in the near future.

“We are experiencing two weeks of decline in cases, which is really good news,” said Dr. Joe Gerald, associate professor of public health at UArizona.

He said Arizona is displaying some positive signs that the pandemic is starting to wane after a recent surge in infections.

“This is the first time in quite some time we’ve gotten a reprieve from transmissions,” he noted.

With that being said, the virus is still present. But Gerald said the state is seeing hospital occupancies starting to level off.

“…and deaths aren’t quite as high as we thought they might be… we are seeing some signs of improvement,” he said.

Looking ahead to this fall and winter, Gerald said Arizona's infection rates will largely depend on human behavior and policies.

“Our current improvements are not explained by reaching levels of herd immunity, where this is just naturally going to push down,” he said.

Gerald, who’s been modeling the pandemic with a team at UArizona, said it’s the highly spreadable Delta variant that’s driving the existing cases.

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He said a layered approach -- what Gerald referred to as the "Swiss cheese model" -- is going to keep Arizona moving in the right direction, especially when it comes to schools.

“There’s not one magic bullet that we can call upon in this instance to reduce transmission,” he said. “It takes multiple different interventions, so having good ventilation in classrooms, wearing a mask, having some children be vaccinated, keeping some physical distancing... it takes a lot of work and effort to keep it tamped down.”

Here in Arizona, more than 3.6 million people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, in a state with a population of more than 7 million residents.

“As we continue to march on, Arizona is vaccinating about 50,000 individuals each week,” Gerald said. “Unfortunately, we’re adding another 20,000 or more infections, who most are going to recover and so our immunity to COVID is building.”

Taking a long view over several years, Gerald said he's optimistic about Arizona's future.

“We’re getting to a better position with COVID-19,” he added.

RELATED: Arizona hospitals struggling with staffing amidst COVID-19 surge

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