Leaders from five Arizona hospital systems provided distressing news on the continuously worsening presence of COVID-19 in the state at a press briefing yesterday.

For weeks, Arizona has topped the charts for the highest coronavirus infection rate in the nation. Dr. Marjorie Bessel, chief clinical officer of Banner Health, said nearly 1 in 10 Arizonans is currently battling COVID-19.

The state’s total deaths from the virus surpassed 10,000 this week while COVID-19-related hospitalizations and new cases continue to grow.

Bessel said 58% of Arizona’s hospital beds are holding COVID-19 patients, a percentage that’s even higher in its ICUs.

If the virus continues at its current pace, Dr. Alyssa Chapital, the hospital medical director of Mayo Clinic, warned the state will meet the dire point where the needs of the community surpass hospitals’ resources—staff being the most critical.

If hospitals run out of these resources, caregivers would triage care, evaluating each patient on the necessity of their care compared to others. Resources would be allocated to those most in need.

“We have educated our staff about it, but it is our sincere hope that Arizonans can help slow the spread of this virus to avoid a triage situation,” Chapital said.

Dr. Keith Frey, chief medical officer of Dignity Health’s Arizona Division, said one of the reasons the state has yet to reach the dire conditions seen in coronavirus hotspots throughout the nation is because of collaboration among Arizona’s hospitals.

Frey lauded the state for being the first to set up a surgeline that allows hospitals to transfer patients based on their necessary level of care so no one facility becomes overwhelmed.

He said the state’s hospitals agreed no one hospital would activate triage based on the Arizona Crisis Standards of Care plan unless they all reached the point of critical resource shortage needed to do so.

“This collaboration and commitment along with our respective systems’ efforts to scale up to meet the demand for healthcare services in our community are the reasons that we continue to be open and accessible for all those in need of care,” Frey said.

Dr. Stephanie Jackson, senior vice president and chief clinical value officer of HonorHealth, asked for patience as the state transitions between groups who qualify for the vaccine. When it does become available to a set population, she encourages everyone who can get a vaccine to do so.

However, COVID-19 mitigation standards don’t stop after vaccination.

“Even after getting vaccinated, it will be necessary to continue with the core COVID-19 safety precautions, including wearing a mask, social distancing and washing your hands,” Jackson said. “These precautions will be necessary for the foreseeable future until we have more information about how long vaccine protection lasts and as more people become protected through the vaccination over time.”

Dr. Michael White, executive vice president and chief clinical officer of Valleywise Health, called for more mitigation policies and enforcement to slow the spread, including a statewide mask mandate, a curfew, a ban on large gatherings and a suspension of indoor dining.

He also called on Arizona’s citizens to do their part by shrinking their circle of interactions to only those in their immediate household, frequently wearing masks and avoiding gatherings with unmasked individuals.

“Many individuals that we see within our communities may have COVID-19 disease and not know it,” White said. “You may have this virus and not have symptoms, and when you bring individuals outside of those that you live with in close proximity, not wear your mask, not maintain that social distancing, you're increasing the risk that you may transmit this, even though you don't have symptoms, someone you may give the virus to may have underlying medical conditions may be completely normal, but their body's response to this infection may ultimately wind them up needing medical care, or in one of our intensive care units.”     

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