ARIZONA, USA — More than 7,200 cases of COVID-19 were reported by the Arizona Department of Health Services this week.
Cases have been on the rise since April as the Omicron variant continues to spread across the United States and in Arizona.
But while cases are rising, it's different than when COVID cases would rise two years ago, or even last year.
Cases on the rise
Dr. Joshua LaBaer, Executive Director of The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University said the percent positivity of cases has been on the rise.
"Back in April, things were pretty calm. But if you look where we are now, very clearly the numbers are going up again in Arizona," LaBaer said.
Dr. Joe Gerald, an associate professor of health policy at the University of Arizona, has also been watching COVID rise and fall in the state and working to model what could happen.
"I don't think this summer is going to give us the same level of trouble that the summer of 2020 did," Gerald said.
Both LaBaer and Gerald said with the state not tracking hospitalization data anymore, it's better to look at how many people are testing positive for the virus, or percent positivity to get an idea of how much of a risk COVID-19 is in the state.
But, the data still comes with limitations given many are using at-home tests that don't get reported to the health departments.
"I think it's not a bad measure of what's going on. It's probably under-representing how much is really out there," LaBaer said.
The hospitalization data, they said, would be helpful to understand how on-alert the community should be.
Gerald said he believes a greater risk of COVID in Arizona is coming in the fall and winter months, and that's when data and testing will be needed even more.
"We'll need to maintain all the infrastructure that we've built over the past two years, moving into the fall and winter, because we're going to need it again. It's not a question of if, but when," Gerald said.
Omicron subvariant spreading in Arizona
Currently, a subvariant of the Omicron variant is what's continuing to spread in Arizona.
The variant is scientifically called: BA.2.12.1.
"It seems to again, have picked up a mutation that does allow it to actually spread even just a little bit faster," Dr. David Engelthaler, Director of the TGen's Infectious Disease wing said.
Engelthaler said the variant is still showing to be less severe.
As for the future of how the COVID-19 virus could change, Engelthaler expects it's the Omicron variant that will stick around.
"This virus continues to evolve in a way that it'll still spread faster, and evade some of our other antibodies," Engelthaler said. "It's going to continue to linger and we're going to continue to see cases."
This is why Engelthaler said knowing how the virus is mutating, and where the virus is coming from through genomic sequencing becomes important, especially with booster development for the vaccines.
"We have no idea where Omicron came from. We have no idea how it kind of popped out of nowhere," Engelthaler said.
Engelthaler said the virus might have been "hiding out" and ended up changing so much to cause more escape from antibodies, vaccines and previous infections.
"We got to stay on top of the genomic sequencing and watch how this virus evolves. But hopefully, we can also just now figure out how to continue to live with this virus, like we do with so many other human viruses," Engelthaler said.
Hospitals still seeing COVID cases
Less severe COVID infections do make a difference in hospitalizations.
Dr. Michael White, Chief Clinical Officer at Valleywise Health said with the rise in cases in Arizona, he is seeing a rise in COVID patients too.
"Certainly we're not near the levels that we were in December and in January," White said. "But the number has increased over the last few weeks."
White said with cases rising, it makes it all more important for people who haven't gotten the vaccine or a booster to do so.
"We have good vaccines that have been proven to demonstrate they prevent the severe illness and hospitalization in folks," White said.
White added it's also a time that if someone is sick and unsure if they have COVID, to get tested and stay home to help not spread it to others.
Adding, it may be time to start wearing a mask indoors again in large gatherings.
"If you have to spend time indoors and you're at risk, you know, from being immunocompromised, or you're at risk, you know, and susceptible to these respiratory viruses. Now, maybe the time again, to wear a mask for a short period of time around that," White said.
VERSIÓN EN ESPAÑOL: Los casos de COVID-19 van en aumento en el estado de Arizona
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