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Hospitals preparing as Arizona moves into third surge of COVID-19

Case averages and COVID hospitalization metrics are reaching highs that haven’t been seen since coming off the winter surge in February.

ARIZONA, USA — More than 3,200 new COVID-19 cases were reported by the state health department Friday. That’s a metric that shows Arizona is in the midst of another wave of COVID-19.

Case averages and COVID hospitalization metrics are reaching highs we haven’t seen since coming off the winter surge in February.

Healthcare leaders preparing

Dr. Michael White, Chief Clinical Officer of Valleywise Health said he stood the incident command back up at the hospital to prepare for more COVID-19 patients.

“I’m starting to see what we saw in the early parts of November, December prior to our big peaks in January,” White said.

The hospital is preparing to re-open spaces they’ve used in previous surges to care for people who have the virus.

“We were hoping to avoid standing this up for a third time,” White said.

White said almost all of the patients he’s seeing in the hospital now are unvaccinated, and people in their 30s, 40s and 50s are primarily his patients.

White said that he believes that’s because more of those in the older generation have gotten the vaccine.

Delta variant impact

Dr. Joe Gerald has been keeping an eye on the pandemic, and modeling it with a team at the University of Arizona.

“Delta has changed the game,” Gerald said.

Gerald said the very easily spread delta variant is driving cases and while 3.4 million Arizonans are fully vaccinated, the virus is seeking out those who haven’t gotten their COVID shots.

“There is a large enough remaining pool of susceptible individuals to drive really large numbers of infections and hospitalizations,” Gerald said.

In terms of how high new cases could get and how many people could get hospitalized, Gerald said both how fast delta spreads and the fact more people are gathering together have an impact.

“Some really bad times aren’t that far off in the future if we do everything wrong,” Gerald said. “Right now, we’re doing more things wrong than right.”

Gerald predicted that, at this point, Arizona could reach a ‘very desperate situation’ come September.

Pointing to other states already surpassing their previous COVID-19 surge highs.

“If Florida can do it I don’t see any reason to think that Arizona can’t,” Gerald said. “They are suggesting that what we previously would’ve considered improbable is now possible.”

What can help now?

White said that getting the COVID vaccine is still the best defense against the virus. But Gerald said that even if a person got a shot today, it would still be weeks until they were fully vaccinated.

Both White and Gerald agree that going back to actions to help prevent COVID, like wearing masks, can help slow passing the virus around now.

“We need to start to do things in our community to reduce the rate of transmission,” White said.

“Many of us are struggling to re-orient ourselves with this notion that the pandemic was over and we can return to our normal lives,” Gerald said. “I think this is a harsh lesson that we’re not there yet.”

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