Doctor looking at x-ray

The number of COVID cases in Pima County remains on a plateau with some signs of a possible slight decline.

“Sometimes it looks a little too scarily flat, for my liking,” Pima County Chief Medical Officer Francisco Garcia told the press last week. “But overall, it’s trending the correct direction. I was hoping we’d have a much steeper decline. This really seems to settling or plateauing rather than declining right now.”

Garcia said that local hospitals remain “super-duper busy,” although part of that could be attributed to people with health issues besides COVID. He added that part of the issue came from staffing shortages.

Garcia said that 90% to 95% of the people in ICUs and on ventilators were not vaccinated against COVID-19.

Garcia said schools were also seeing a slight decrease in cases. 

Overall, he said roughly 47% of cases in schools were among children 12 years old and under, while about 40% were among children between 13 and 17 and the remainder of school cases were among adults.

Garcia said the Health Department had closed only 40 classrooms so far this school year.

“Schools are absolutely doing what they need to do, which is identifying those children early and getting those children home and making sure those children are not in contact with the rest of the school population,”

Garcia said. “I think we would have a hell of lot more classes shutting down if that were not the case.”

Dr. Joe Gerald, a epidemiologist with the UA Zuckerman School of Public Health who has been following the outbreak since March 2020, noted in his weekly report that the steepest decline in COVID cases on a week-to-week basis was among children aged 5 to 19.

“While difficult to draw causal conclusions, recent mask mandates in certain districts, aggressive case identification and limited classroom closures are likely helping.” Gerald said.

For the week ending Sept. 12, 1,712 Pima County residents tested positive for COVID-19, which was a 4% decline from the previous week. Gerald noted that Pima County had experienced three straight weeks of declining cases, although cases were declining more quickly in the state as a whole.

Gerald said Arizona still had a high number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths, but “conditions are slowly improving except for a small number of counties like Greenlee County, which is near its all-time high.”

Gerald said Arizona’s hospital occupancy “remains above seasonal levels.”

As of Sept. 15, 2,050 (23%) of Arizona’s 8,747 general ward beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients, a 1% decrease from last week’s 2,061 occupied beds. Another 695 (8%) beds remained available for use, according to Gerald.

By the same date, 565 (32%) of Arizona’s 1,743 ICU beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients, a 1% increase from last week’s 561 occupied beds. An additional 143 (8%) ICU beds remained available for use. 

“As a lagging indicator, hospital occupancy is plateauing but not

declining as expected,” Gerald wrote. “This may be attributable to persistently high transmission among high-risk groups and/or longer length of stay among younger patients.”

As of Monday, Sept. 20, a total of 19,513 Arizonans had died after contracting COVID, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. 

That means roughly 1 in every 350 Arizonans has died after contracting the disease. The national average shows 1 in every 500 people in the United States has died after contracting COVID.

According to the CDC, 61% of Arizona’s adult population is fully vaccinated and another 10% have received one dose, wrote Gerald. 

“The ADHS Vaccine Dashboard shows weekly doses delivered are declining with 70K doses per being administered last week,” Gerald wrote. “Based on national serology data, the combination of natural and vaccine immunity likely exceeds 80% in most parts of the country and among most age groups. Nevertheless, non-pharmacologic interventions like mask mandates, limited gathering sizes, and targeted business mitigations will help speed resolution and ensure this wave does not reignite.”

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