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Valley doctor says COVID-19 situation is 'dynamic' as treatment evolves

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Arizona has been stuck on a plateau as vaccination rates slowly climb and more transmissible variants spread.

PHOENIX — It’s been a tough year and a half as frontline healthcare workers have been treating those with COVID-19, and they continue to see a steady stream of people getting sick in Arizona.

Right now, healthcare leaders expect the impact the virus has on Arizona will likely be dynamic as we go forward.

Signs of improvement 

Back in March of 2020, a unit at Valleywise Health was outfitted to accommodate COVID-19 patients as an intensive care unit.

On Thursday, Valleywise Health’s Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Michael White stood in the unit again.

“Today, this unit is empty,” Dr. White said.

Signs reminding staff to wear personal protective equipment before entering rooms still hang on the windows with additional ductwork hanging from the ceiling used to create negative pressure rooms. But no patients or staff are on the floor.

“We continue to be worried, continue to watch and continue to have this unit ready if we see an increase in the number of patients,” Dr. White said.

RELATED: Delta variant: Pfizer to seek US permission for COVID vaccine booster

Stuck on a plateau

While that particular unit is empty at Vallywise, that does not mean that COVID-19 patients aren’t coming into the hospital. They just don’t need what this unit was outfitted for.

“We’re also not seeing people as sick as we saw earlier in the pandemic,” Dr. White said. “Those that are hospitalized are yes, ill, and requiring our services here in the hospital, but they’re not so sick that they needed to be on the ventilators and the things we saw early on.”

Dr. White said they’re experiencing a plateau in those hospitalized with COVID for weeks now. That’s what data from the Arizona Department of Health Services shows as well.

“Almost all the patients that we have in the hospital are not fully vaccinated,” Dr. White said.

Dr. Jim Whitfill, who serves as Senior Vice President and Chief Transformation Officer at HonorHealth said that’s what their hospitals have seen too.

“It just breaks your heart, overwhelmingly we’re seeing folks coming to the hospital with COVID who are not vaccinated,” Dr. Whitfill said.

RELATED: Daily COVID cases increase by 30% in Arizona

Vaccination rates are helping, but the future is uncertain

As of Thursday, 50% of Arizonans have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and both doctors say that’s helped.

“It works, it’s protective and it’s probably the best thing that people can do because, boy, that COIVD virus is not sitting back and quitting anytime soon.

Variables like the virus itself, its variants and vaccinations all leave the future uncertain.

The doctors and other health experts agree COVID-19 isn’t going away, and will likely be a virus we contend with for many years to come. Potentially having some seasonality like the flu does.

“The reality is it’s going to be dynamic,” Dr. Whitfill said.

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