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'It’s just everywhere': Infection spreading widely in Arizona and hospital beds filling up faster, ASU team says

Cases are climbing exponentially even before a projected spike after Thanksgiving. Team leader says youth sports contributing to new infections

New coronavirus data Wednesday out of Arizona State University confirms a grim outlook by the state’s largest hospital network, with one big difference: the infection is spreading more widely and hospital beds are filling up faster. 

The cases are piling up so fast that the ASU modeling team had to revise last week’s projections within a matter of days. Now the team is calling for an urgent response to deal with this crisis. 

“The virus is pervasive now in our community,” said Dr. Joshua LaBaer, leader of the modeling team and executive director of ASU’s Biodesign Institute.

“The risk of spread is too high right now...it’s just everywhere.” 

Here are three takeaways from LaBaer’s virtual news conference Wednesday:

The coronavirus is not only pervasive, according to LaBaer, but also spreading exponentially before the spike that’s forecast after Arizonans gather for Thanksgiving.

“These are all numbers that are happening before the holiday even got here,” he said. 

Coronavirus caseloads already match the summer peak in July.

Takeaway: Arizona hospital beds and ICUs will reach capacity in a week or two; COVID-only patients will fill hospital beds by mid-January. 

Hundreds of youth sports teams from all over the country are descending on the Valley this week for tournaments. 

RELATED: Valley soccer tournament still scheduled to begin despite COVID-19 worries

Are those gatherings safe?

“A lot of cases are happening at kids’ sporting events,” LaBaer said. 

“Everybody gets together on the sidelines, and you see a lot of clusters of people chatting with each other, not maintaining social distancing.”

The evidence, LaBaer said, comes from contact tracing. 

“We’re hearing that from our contact tracers,” he said. “The contact tracers are tracking down clusters of outbreaks, and they’re tracking them back to these sporting events.”

Takeaway: People concerned about large youth sports tournaments appear to have the science on their side. 

Governor Doug Ducey and Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ have taken few concrete steps to stem this latest COVID surge. 

The inaction has frustrated public health professionals.

“This would be a really good time - a few weeks ago would have been a really good time - to start thinking about policies that prevent people from spreading the virus,” LaBaer said.

At the top of the list: a statewide mask mandate.

The ASU modeling team called for “urgent public health interventions ... to change the trajectory of the current outbreak, including a statewide masking mandate, with effective enforcement.”

Takeaway: Public health professionals are unified in calling for a mask mandate. The governor has resisted a statewide mandate. 

Last week, however, the Department of Health Services mandated that masks be worn on all public and charter school campuses and buses, and for all school activities.

PHOENIX⁠ - To protect the health of our school communities, the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) today issued an emergency measure requiring district and charter schools to immediately mandate that masks are worn on school campuses, on school buses and during school-associated activities by all students, faculty, staff, contractors, and visitors.