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'Help us': Arizona's top health leaders plead for public caution as COVID-19 overwhelms hospitals again

Health officials expect COVID-19 cases and deaths to rise for the next four to six weeks. Medical leaders offer a strong plea for public buy-in for COVID vaccines.

PHOENIX — It feels like deja vu for health care workers across the state. 

Arizona's COVID-19 cases, deaths, hospital bed and ventilator usage are at the highest levels the state has experienced in the past six months. 

Just days before Thanksgiving, the state is seeing worse numbers than last year. 

A plea for help from Arizona's top health leaders

“What we are doing today is pleading with America that it’s not about you," former U.S. Surgeon General and Arizona's top health official Dr. Richard Carmona explained. "It’s about you, your family, your community, our state, the nation and the world. Because if we cannot achieve herd immunity globally, this virus will continue." 

On Friday, the Arizona Department of Health Services and medical leaders from Arizona hospitals pleaded with the public to listen to the science as hospitals are overwhelmed by unvaccinated patients. 

“Fifty percent of our patients in the ICU on ventilators today are COVID-positive," said Banner Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Marjorie Bessel. "If we didn’t have those patients, we would have more than enough room for all of the other patients we are talking about that need us today.” 

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Dire COVID-19 numbers inside Arizona hospitals 

Statewide there are only 35% of emergency beds open for both COVID and non-COVID patients, along with eight percent of inpatient beds and six percent of ICU beds. COVID-19 intubations are up 61% in the last five days. 

Hospitals are also facing staffing issues. 

"Even if we have an available bed, doesn't mean we have the staff to care for that bed," said Carmona. 

The impact on rural hospitals is even more desperate.

"We are having problems," Dr. Edward Miller with Copper Queen Community Hospital explained.

The small rural hospital has closed its emergency room because it currently can not fully care for patients. 

"Routine care is being delayed," Carmona said. 

RELATED: Coronavirus‌ ‌in‌ ‌Arizona:‌ ‌COVID-19 cases for the week of Nov. 22

Where is Ducey? 

On Wednesday, Gov. Doug Ducey was asked about the crisis facing his state's hospitals.

“It does appear seeing the data over the past several weeks that there is another wave on its way," the governor said. "The highest level of effectiveness to protect people is the vaccine.”   

While that may be true, Ducey has strongly opposed mandates of any kind. 

According to the White House, 95% of Federal employees have already adhered to the Covid-19 vaccine mandate before the January deadline.

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Will the vaccine save Arizona? 

“Will the vaccines save Arizona? No, it’s too late for that. We are far too in,” UArizona Public Health Director Dr. Joe Gerald said. 

Gerald said it's now on the individual to stop the spread of Covid-19. 

“Right now it’s the non-pharmacologic interventions that are going to have the most impact; mask-wearing and avoiding high-risk areas,” Gerald said. 

He anticipates an increase in cases and deaths through January along with the virus becoming a seasonal burden for Arizona hospitals for the next two to five years. 

Gerald says there is hope with the development of oral treatments for COVID-19 positive patients from Pfizer and Merck. 

“Over time that burden will become less and less as more people essentially build up their immunity against severe illness,” Gerald said.    

A clear message is for Arizona health leaders    

"We need your help to solve this problem," Carmona explained. "Even with the best ideas, we can’t do it without the public helping us.”   

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