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Ripple effects expected as omicron spreads through Arizona

AZDHS reported more than 15,000 new cases on Sunday and public health experts expect thousands more cases in the coming weeks.

ARIZONA, USA — The Arizona Department of Health Services reported 15,850 new COVID-19 cases in Arizona Sunday in addition to 69 more people who lost their lives to the virus.

RELATED: Arizona has second straight day of 15K+ cases of COVID-19

More cases than reported 

The highly transmissible omicron variant is now the dominant strain in Arizona.

According to TGen’s genome sequencing tracker, omicron makes up more than 86 percent of the genomes sequenced in the state.

Since Friday, AZDHS has reported COVID-19 case counts higher than 14,000 every day.

“We’re infecting a lot of people,” Will Humble, former state health director and current executive director for the Arizona Public Health Association said. “And it’s a lot higher, by the way, than 15,000.”

Humble said between rapid tests taken at home and not reported to the state, people struggling to get tested and people not getting tested, Arizona’s COVID cases are higher than what AZDHS has reported.

Ripple effects

Currently, AZDHS is reporting a 66.3% vaccination rate across the state. Humble said he expects those who have not gotten the vaccine will now likely build immunity through getting COVID.

“What omicron is doing, in my opinion, is compressing six months' worth of delta infections into about six weeks of omicron infections,” Humble said.

While the omicron variant spreads quickly, studies have led researchers to believe omicron has a shorter incubation than previous variants, meaning people get sicker faster and can cause people to get the virus after having already been infected or fully vaccinated.

Humble expects with the number of infections, ripple effects will be seen throughout the workforce from businesses needing to go remote, disruptions in retail and other industries.

“Especially in the hospital sector you're gonna see a lot of call-offs and it's gonna be really challenging to get enough people in to keep the wheels on,” Humble said. “In schools, I think you’re going to see a lot of breakthrough cases among teachers.”

On Monday, teachers across Arizona are wearing black as they’re concerned over working conditions.

“What we’re doing right now is unsustainable. It has been for probably a good year or so,” Katie Nash, president of the Chandler Education Association said.

In an event on social media, the teachers are calling for health measures like masking, ventilation, and testing.

“We want to be in-person safely,” Nash said.

Nash, who teaches Biology in the Chandler Unified School District said it’s been a continual lack of funding of public schools in Arizona, coupled with the pandemic that’s leading to issues now.

“In Chandler, we have our instructional coaches showing up in our classrooms. We've even had our superintendent and assistant superintendents subbing because we just have a crisis level of folks that are out right now,” Nash said. “And we don't anticipate it really getting anybody better, at least for about two weeks.”

In the weeks to come 

While omicron appears to be less severe for adults, Humble said he’s anticipating hospitals will still become busier than they already are.

“That doesn't mean it's going to be easy for the hospitals. They've already been in what we call contingency standards of care. That means that they're changing admission policies, they're changing discharge policies, they're adjusting staffing ratios,” Humble said.

Dignity Health told 12 News in a statement they’ll be allowing staff who have COVID-19 but are asymptomatic or who have improving mild symptoms to come to work without quarantining. A spokesperson described the change as enacting, ‘the third tier of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19 positive health care workers.’

RELATED: Dignity Health OKs COVID-positive, asymptomatic employees to work

Humble expects other healthcare systems will also follow Dignity’s lead, due to an expected increase of new cases.

“I would expect us to continue to have increases in cases, maybe even into the 20,000-25,000 cases a day range by the end of the month, before we start seeing it leveling off and beginning to drift downwards a little bit,” Humble said.

In the meantime, Humble said his recommendation is for people to wear better masks when out in public like an N-95, KN95, or KN94, believing this wave won’t last for very long.

“By late spring, into the early part of the summer, I can really be quite sure that the public health emergency part of this will be over,” Humble said.

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