By Alicia A. Caldwell and Ian Lovett
Arizona has the highest Covid-19 infection rate in the U.S. and
is on the brink of running out of space in crowded hospitals,
according to public-health and hospital officials.
The state hit a record for new infections last week, with 11,324
in a single day. It has the highest per capita rate of new Covid-19
infections in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, and the highest rate of Covid-19
hospitalizations, according to the Covid tracking project.
As of Monday, roughly 16% of Covid-19 tests in the state were
coming back positive, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins
University, and health officials estimate that one in 10 residents
is currently infected.
"We're the hottest spot in the U.S. and among the hottest spots
in the entire world," said Keith Frey, chief medical officer for
hospital chain Dignity Health's Arizona division. "If we don't slow
this down over the course of the next days and weeks, then we will
be fully into that crisis zone."
Mr. Frey spoke at a press conference Wednesday where the heads
of Arizona's largest health systems gathered to express how dire
the situation has become.
As of Wednesday, 7% of Arizona's ICU beds were available,
according to state data. Nearly 60% of all people hospitalized in
Arizona have Covid-19 and close to 65% of ICU beds are being used
for Covid-19 patients. That means patients with other conditions
are being displaced, said Will Humble, executive director of the
Arizona Public Health Association.
Mr. Humble estimated that if current trends continue, the
Covid-19 situation in Arizona will in a few weeks be as bad as that
in nearby Southern California, where ICU availability has been at
0% since December. Arizona has 19% more ICU beds, per capita, than
California, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Ross Goldberg, president of the Arizona Medical Association,
said hospitals are preparing by converting nonspecialized units
into Covid-19-only areas. "We're still seeing that Christmas
surge," he said.
Throughout 2020, Arizona was home to some of the nation's most
dramatic coronavirus waves and most intense debates over whether
government-imposed restrictions on activity were the solution. The
state followed the rest of the country in shuttering non-essential
businesses after the pandemic took hold in mid-March.
By summer, a stay-at-home order had expired and cases jumped. In
June, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey reversed a prior order barring
local officials from implementing some Covid-19 restrictions,
including mandating masks be worn in public places.
After a decline in the late summer, cases began climbing again
in the fall, as they did in much of the country. On Oct. 1, Arizona
had a seven-day average of 480 new cases a day. One month later,
that rate had nearly tripled, and by the start of 2021, it had
In December, Mr. Ducey signed an executive order that allowed
restaurants to expand outdoor dining but didn't ban indoor dining,
as other hard-hit regions have done.
Representatives for the governor declined to comment and
referred to his state-of-the-state address Monday, in which he
said, "If we're really all in this together, then we have to
appreciate that for many families 'lockdown' doesn't spell
inconvenience; it spells catastrophe: zero income, inability to
make a payment, eviction, foreclosure and real personal
Some local governments have issued their own stricter rules,
however. Pima County, which includes Tucson and is the
second-largest metro area in the state, issued a curfew from 10
p.m. to 5 a.m. in mid-December and has mandated the use of face
coverings in public since June.
In December, a group of public-health officials sent a letter to
Mr. Ducey, requesting he take more measures to close businesses
like bars and nightclubs, and issue a statewide mask mandate.
Mr. Ducey has repeatedly declined to issue a statewide mandate,
saying in December that it wasn't necessary, as there was "almost
nowhere you can go in the state of Arizona and no part of our
economy that you can participate in without wearing a mask."
At their press conference Wednesday, the hospital officials
urged members of the public to stay home, wear masks in public and
avoid large gatherings. They also said in-person schooling was
dangerous. Mr. Ducey on Monday encouraged schools offering virtual
learning to reopen.
Stephanie Jackson, chief clinical value officer at HonorHealth,
begged Arizona residents to stay away from businesses that are
legally open, particularly restaurants.
"Regardless of what the various messages are from a myriad of
government officials...if you want to keep your friends and family
safe, indoor dining at this time is not a good idea," Dr. Jackson
said. "We have extremely widespread levels of Covid-19. So my
advice to you would be to order out."
Write to Alicia A. Caldwell at Alicia.Caldwell@wsj.com and Ian
Lovett at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 15, 2021 09:14 ET (14:14 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.