Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Arizona increased to levels not seen since early February as Arizonans continue to get infected with the virus.
On Friday, the state reported 5,236 new COVID-19 cases and 14 new known deaths.
COVID-19 hospitalizations have risen sharply in recent weeks, with 2,714 patients hospitalized Thursday across Arizona for known or suspected COVID-19, a level last seen during the end of last winter's brutal surge.
About 22% of reported COVID-19 cases in Arizona in October were breakthrough infections among fully vaccinated people, according to state health officials, who say the vaccine remains the best way to prevent severe illness and death. Still the vast majority of cases, hospitalizations and deaths are among people not fully vaccinated.
As of Oct. 18, the breakthrough fatality rate in Arizona was less than 0.01%, state data shows.
Maricopa County health officials found from some of their October data that unvaccinated individuals in the county were 3½ times more likely to get a COVID-19 infection than fully vaccinated individuals. And those not fully vaccinated were about five times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than fully vaccinated individuals, per health officials.
Previous days this week saw the following new case reports: 3,655 on Nov. 27; 2,274 on Nov. 28; 1,961 on Nov. 29; 2,971 on Nov. 30; and 3,163 on Dec. 1.
Death reports for the past week were: 47 on Nov. 27; five on Nov. 28; one on Nov. 29; 77 on Nov. 30; and 43 on Dec. 1.
The Arizona Republic generally recaps the state's daily numbers online in a COVID-19 updates blog and in a weekly recap story online on Thursdays or Fridays and in the newspaper on Sundays.
Arizona's seven-day case rate per 100,000 people ranked 14th Thursday among all states and territories after ranking first and second for much of January and then lower since, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID-19 Data Tracker.
Arizona's seven-day case rate per 100,000 people ranked 51st among 60 states and territories on March 28, but its rank has fluctuated. Two weeks ago, it ranked 12th.
The state's seven-day average for new reported COVID-19 cases was at 3,051 on Thursday, compared with 3,932 a week ago and 3,596 two weeks ago. The average had reached as high as 9,800 in January, according to state data.
Arizona's seven-day death rate per 100,000 people ranked seventh in the nation out of all states and territories as of Wednesday, according to the CDC.
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Percent positivity, which refers to the percentage of COVID-19 diagnostic tests that are positive, varies somewhat based on how it's measured. It's been higher in recent weeks, a sign of more community spread.
For most of May and June, Arizona's percent positivity for COVID-19 testing was at 4-5%, before rising over the course of July and August. It was 10% for the week of Sept. 5 and 9% for each week after through the week of Oct. 17. It was 10% for the week of Oct. 24, 11% for the week of Oct. 31, 12% for the week of Nov. 7, 13% for the week of Nov. 14 and 14% for the week of Nov. 21. It’s at 14% so far for the week of Nov. 28. The percentages are now for all diagnostic tests conducted, rather than for unique individuals tested, following a change to the state dashboard.
Johns Hopkins University calculates Arizona's seven-day moving average of percent positives at 11.6% as of Friday. It shows the state's percent positivity peaked at 24.2% in December.
A positivity rate of 5% or less is considered a good benchmark that the disease's spread is under control.
The state's overall COVID-19 death and case rates since Jan. 21, 2020, still remain among the worst in the country.
The COVID-19 death rate in Arizona since the pandemic began is 306 deaths per 100,000 people as of Wednesday, according to the CDC, putting it sixth in the country in a state ranking that separates New York City from New York state. The U.S. average is 234 deaths per 100,000 people as of Thursday, according to the CDC.
New York City has the highest death rate, at 414 deaths per 100,000 people, followed by Mississippi, Alabama, New Jersey and Louisiana.
The state surpassed 22,000 known deaths on Nov. 23 after passing 21,000 deaths on Oct. 27, 20,000 deaths on Oct. 1, 19,000 deaths on Aug. 31, 18,000 deaths on July 6, 17,000 deaths on April 7, 16,000 deaths on March 2,15,000 deaths on Feb. 17, 14,000 deaths on Feb. 6 and 13,000 deaths on Jan. 29, just one week after it passed 12,000 and two weeks after 11,000 deaths. The state exceeded 10,000 known deaths on Jan. 9. Arizona's first known death from the disease occurred in mid-March 2020.
Many of the reported deaths occurred days or weeks prior because of reporting delays and death certificate matching.
A total of 1,282,291 COVID-19 cases have been identified across the state.
Hospitalizations still trending up
The Arizona data dashboard shows 94% of all ICU beds and 95% of all inpatient beds in the state were in use on Thursday, with 37% of ICU beds and 31% of non-ICU beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. Statewide, 116 ICU beds and 464 non-ICU beds were available.
The number of patients hospitalized in Arizona for known or suspected COVID-19 cases was at 2,714 on Thursday, an increase from recent numbers and a level not seen since early February. Last week that number was at 2,550 and two weeks ago was at 2,403. The record was 5,082 inpatients on Jan. 11. The highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in a single day during the summer 2020 surge was 3,517 on July 13.
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The number of patients with suspected or known COVID-19 in ICUs across Arizona was at 656 on Thursday, compared with 633 on Nov. 24, still far below the record high of 1,183 on Jan. 11. During the summer surge in mid-July 2020, ICU beds in use for COVID-19 peaked at 970.
Arizonans with confirmed and suspected COVID-19 on ventilators rose to 437 on Thursday. The record-high 821 was reached on Jan. 13. During the summer 2020 surge, July 16 was the peak day for ventilator use, with 687 patients.
Wednesday saw 1,892 patients in Arizona emergency rooms for COVID-19, below the Dec. 29 single-day record of 2,341 positive or suspected COVID-19 patients seen in emergency departments across the state.
Arizona began its first COVID-19 vaccinations for health care workers, long-term care facilities and front-line first responders in mid-December, before shifting to a largely age-based rollout in March. Arizonans aged five and older are eligible to get the Pfizer vaccine, while the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are approved for those 18 and older.
The state reported about 4.5 million people in Arizona — about 62.5% of the total state population — had received at least one vaccine dose as of Thursday, with nearly 3.9 million residents fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The state’s data dashboard now separates out doses administered to Arizona residents versus all doses administered in the state.
Arizona's rate of fully vaccinated people out of the total population is 54.7%, which is behind the national rate of 59.4%, according to the CDC as of Wednesday.
Out of the vaccine-eligible population, people ages five and older, 58.2% of those in Arizona are fully vaccinated compared with 63.2% at the national level, CDC data shows.
What to know about Friday's numbers
Reported cases in Arizona: 1,282,291.
Daily cases are grouped by the date they are reported to the state health department, not by the date the tests were administered.
Cases by county: 807,353 in Maricopa; 161,067 in Pima; 82,423 in Pinal; 42,897 in Yuma; 36,391 in Mohave; 33,180 in Yavapai; 25,584 in Coconino; 24,890 in Navajo; 18,321 in Cochise; 15,425 in Apache; 11,284 in Gila; 9,952 in Santa Cruz; 8,603 in Graham; 3,432 in La Paz and 1,383 in Greenlee, according to state numbers.
The rate of cases per 100,000 people since the pandemic began is highest in Graham County, followed by Navajo, Apache, Gila and Santa Cruz counties, per state data. The rate in Graham County is 22,359 cases per 100,000 people. By comparison, the U.S. average rate since the pandemic began is 14,689 cases per 100,000 people as of Friday, according to the CDC.
The Navajo Nation reported 39,561 cases and 1,542 confirmed deaths in total as of Wednesday. The Navajo Nation includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
The Arizona Department of Corrections reported 12,489 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Thursday, including 2,246 in Tucson, 2,035 in Eyman, 2,012 in Yuma, 1,316 in Lewis and 1,163 in Douglas; 51,397 inmates statewide have been tested. A total of 3,261 prison staff members have self-reported testing positive, the department said. Fifty-six incarcerated people in Arizona have been confirmed to have died of COVID-19, with five additional deaths under investigation.
Race/ethnicity is unknown for 17% of all COVID-19 cases statewide, but of positive cases, the breakdown is 39% white, 29% Hispanic or Latino, 5% Native American, 4% Black and 1% Asian/Pacific Islander.
Of those who have tested positive in Arizona since the start of the pandemic, about 20% were younger than 20, 43% were 20-44, 14% were 45-54, 11% were 55-64 and 12% were age 65 or older.
Laboratories had completed 14,663,828 total diagnostic tests for COVID-19 as of Thursday, 9.9% of which have come back positive. That number includes both PCR and antigen testing. For most of May and the first part of June, Arizona’s percent positivity was at 4-5% before rising again in late June, according to the state. Percent positivity is at 14% so far for the week of Nov. 28. The state numbers leave out data from labs that do not report electronically.
The state Health Department includes probable cases as anyone with a positive antigen test, another type of test to determine infection. Antigen tests (not related to antibody tests) use a nasal swab or another fluid sample to test for current infection. Results are typically produced within 15 minutes.
A positive antigen test result is considered very accurate, but there's an increased chance of false-negative results, Mayo Clinic officials said. They say a doctor may recommend a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test to confirm a negative antigen test result.
Arizona as of Wednesday had the 12th-highest overall case rate in the country since Jan. 21, 2020. Ahead of Arizona in cases per 100,000 people since the pandemic began are North Dakota, Alaska, Tennessee, Wyoming, South Dakota, Utah, Rhode Island, Montana, South Carolina, Kentucky and Arkansas, according to the CDC.
Arizona's infection rate is 17,544 cases per 100,000 people, according to the CDC. The national average is 14,689 cases per 100,000 people, although the rates in states hard hit early in the pandemic may be an undercount because of a lack of available testing in March and April 2020.
Reported deaths in Arizona: 22,397
Deaths by county: 12,819 in Maricopa; 2,903 in Pima; 1,176 in Pinal; 1,053 in Mohave; 930 in Yuma; 812 in Yavapai; 680 in Navajo; 512 in Apache; 392 in Cochise; 386 in Coconino; 279 in Gila; 196 in Santa Cruz; 135 in Graham; 102 in La Paz and 22 in Greenlee.
People age 65 and older make up 15,935 of the 22,397 deaths, or 71%. About 16% of deaths were among people 55-64 years old, 8% were 45-54 and 5% were 20-44 years old.
While race/ethnicity was unknown for 6% of deaths, 51% of those who died were white, 28% were Hispanic or Latino, 8% were Native American, 3% were Black and 1% were Asian/Pacific Islander, the state data shows.
The global death toll as of Friday was 5,240,240. The U.S. had the highest death count of any country in the world, at 786,706, followed by Brazil at 615,179 and India at 470,115, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Arizona's 22,397 deaths represent about 2.9% of COVID-19 deaths in the United States.
Reporter Stephanie Innes contributed to this article.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Dec. 2 Arizona COVID-19 update: 5,236 new cases, 14 new deaths