Cases and hospitalizations for COVID-19 continue to drop in Arizona, according to the state’s weekly data update, but deaths remain at high levels.
On Wednesday, health officials reported 5,153 new COVID-19 cases and 457 new known deaths over the weeklong period ending March 12.
Total reported cases since the pandemic began are at nearly 2 million, and known deaths in Arizona have passed 28,500.
Wednesday marked the third of the weekly updates to the state’s data dashboard, instead of daily updates that Arizonans became accustomed to following for the latest data on infections, illnesses and deaths.
The previous week’s update added 6,549 cases and 382 deaths, compared with 9,647 cases and 449 deaths the week prior.
This week’s update shows the differences between data reported for the week of March 6-12 and the week of Feb. 27-March 5.
Health officials say moving to weekly updates matches how public health monitors trends and other disease reporting.
Case numbers have been declining significantly, and public health experts estimate cases of the highly contagious omicron variant peaked in Arizona around mid-January.
Hospitalizations for the disease have been dropping steadily since late January.
Over the past week, a daily average of about 660 patients were hospitalized across Arizona for known or suspected COVID-19, continuing a steady decrease over roughly the past seven weeks. An average of about 169 ICU beds were available across the state.
The number of known deaths in the state was at 28,547 as of Wednesday, after passing 28,000 known deaths in last week’s update, 27,000 deaths on Feb. 10 and 26,000 deaths on Jan. 28. The state surpassed 25,000 deaths on Jan. 13.
Arizona’s overall pandemic death rate since early 2020 is fourth highest nationwide.
State data on breakthrough infections
The state in December began publicly disclosing data on breakthrough COVID-19 infections, and state officials say the data underscores the effectiveness of the vaccine — especially for people with booster doses.
The vast majority of cases, hospitalizations and deaths are among people not fully vaccinated and boosted.
Data from January show that 43.2% of cases, 31.5% of hospitalizations and 28.6% of COVID-19 deaths were among fully vaccinated people without a booster, with nearly all the rest among unvaccinated people. Fully vaccinated people with a booster made up 2.8% of reported cases, 1.9% of hospitalizations and 1.6% of deaths in January.
Unvaccinated adults in Arizona had an 11 times greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19, 67 times greater risk of hospitalization from COVID-19 and 180 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19 in January compared with fully vaccinated people with a booster, according to state data.
Unvaccinated adults had a 1.3 times greater risk of testing positive, 4.1 times greater risk of hospitalization and 7.2 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19 compared with individuals who were fully vaccinated without a booster.
As of Feb. 23, there had been 1,034 breakthrough deaths in fully vaccinated individuals, according to state health officials, which works out to a breakthrough death rate of 0.02% among fully vaccinated people.
Case rates and death reports
The omicron variant remains overwhelmingly dominant in Arizona, according to results from sequencing labs.
Percent positivity, which refers to the percentage of COVID-19 diagnostic tests that are positive, varies somewhat based on how it’s measured. It was high in recent weeks, a sign of more community spread, but has been gradually decreasing.
For most of December, Arizona’s percent positivity for COVID-19 testing was at 11%-13%, before rising to 22% for the week of Dec. 26, 29% for the week of Jan. 2, 32% for the week of Jan. 9, 34% for the week of Jan. 16, 29% for the week of Jan. 23, 22% for the week of Jan. 30, 16% for the week of Feb. 6, 11% for the week of Feb. 13, 7% for the week of Feb. 20, 4% for the week of Feb. 27 and 3% for the week of Mar. 6. The percentages are now for all diagnostic tests conducted, rather than for unique individuals tested, following a change to the state dashboard.
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 385 deaths per 100,000 people as of Tuesday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, putting it fourth in the country in a state ranking that separates New York City from New York state. The U.S. average is 290 deaths per 100,000 people as of Tuesday, according to the CDC.
New York City has the highest death rate, at 475 deaths per 100,000 people, followed by Mississippi at 412 and Alabama at 386.
Arizona’s first known death from the disease occurred in mid-March 2020.
Many of the reported deaths occurred days or weeks before because of reporting delays and death certificate matching.
A total of 1,992,471 COVID-19 cases had been identified across the state through March 12.
Hospitalizations still declining
The Arizona data dashboard shows an average of 89% of all ICU beds and 92% of all inpatient beds in the state were in use this week, with 10% of ICU beds and 8% of non-ICU beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. Statewide, an average of 169 ICU beds and 684 non-ICU beds were available each day this week.
The number of patients hospitalized in Arizona for known or suspected COVID-19 cases was at a daily average of 663 reported so far this week, lower than previous weeks. During the week of Jan. 25, the daily average was 3,432 inpatients. The record was a daily average of 4,955 during the week of Jan. 5, 2021.
The number of patients with suspected or known COVID-19 in ICUs across Arizona has continued to drop and was at a daily average of 159 this week, compared with about 200-300 for the previous two weeks. The record high was about 1,132 ICU patients during the week of Jan. 12, 2021.
Arizonans with confirmed and suspected COVID-19 on ventilators were reported at 65 this week, after sharp drops in February. The record-high daily average of 799 was for the week of Jan. 12, 2021. During the summer 2020 surge, mid-July was the peak for ventilator use, with a daily average of 646 patients.
This week’s report shows an average of 1,153 patients in Arizona emergency rooms for COVID-19. The record high came the week of Jan. 11, when an average of 2,325 positive or suspected COVID-19 patients were seen daily in emergency departments across the state.
Arizonans age 5 and older are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, while the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are approved for those 18 and older. Many individuals are eligible for booster doses, too.
The state reported just over 5 million people in Arizona — about 70% of the total state population — had received at least one vaccine dose through March 12, with over 4.3 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 60.5%, which is behind the national rate of 65.3%, according to the CDC as of Tuesday.
Out of the vaccine-eligible population, people age 5 and older, 64.3% of those in Arizona are fully vaccinated, compared with 69.4% at the national level, CDC data shows.
Health experts strongly recommend booster shots for those eligible, especially with the omicron variant spreading. About 43.2% of fully vaccinated Arizonans over the age of 18 had received a booster shot as of Tuesday, below the national rate of 47.8% for that same age group.
What to know about latest numbers
Reported cases in Arizona: 1,992,471, as of March 12.
Cases by county: 1,256,653 in Maricopa; 251,765 in Pima; 129,486 in Pinal; 62,389 in Yuma; 57,175 in Mohave; 47,622 in Yavapai; 43,272 in Coconino; 37,955 in Navajo; 31,188 in Cochise; 22,126 in Apache; 16,946 in Gila; 16,588 in Santa Cruz; 11,932 in Graham; 5,161 in La Paz; and 2,213 in Greenlee, according to state numbers.
The rate of cases per 100,000 people since the pandemic began is highest in Navajo County, followed by Graham, Apache, Gila and Maricopa counties, according to state data. The rate in Navajo County is 33,641 cases per 100,000 people. By comparison, the U.S. average rate since the pandemic began is 23,921 cases per 100,000 people as of Tuesday, according to the CDC.
The Navajo Nation reported 52,732 cases and 1,657 confirmed deaths as of Tuesday. The Navajo Nation includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
The Arizona Department of Corrections reported 14,848 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday, including 2,474 in Tucson, 2,281 in Eyman, 2,233 in Yuma, 1,711 in Lewis and 1,164 in Phoenix; 54,022 inmates statewide have been tested. A total of 4,999 prison staff members have self-reported testing positive, the department said. Fifty-seven incarcerated people in Arizona have been confirmed to have died of COVID-19, with 16 additional deaths under investigation.
The race/ethnicity breakdown of cases since the start of the pandemic in 2020 has been 40% white, 29% Hispanic or Latino, 5% American Indian, 4% Black and 2% Asian/Pacific Islander. Race/ethnicity of positive cases since the onset of the pandemic is unknown in 14% of cases, and listed as other race in 6% of cases.
Of those who have tested positive in Arizona since the start of the pandemic, about 21% were younger than 20, 43% were 20-44, 13% were 45-54, 11% were 55-64 and 12% were age 65 or older.
Laboratories had completed 18,577,223 total diagnostic tests for COVID-19 as of March 12, 12.3% of which have come back positive. That number includes both PCR and antigen testing. Percent positivity was at 3% for the week of Mar 6. 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 Tuesday had the 11th 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 Alaska, Rhode Island, North Dakota, Tennessee, Kentucky, Utah, South Carolina, West Virginia, Guam and Arkansas, according to the CDC.
Arizona’s infection rate is 27,303 cases per 100,000 people, according to the CDC. The national average is 23,921 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: 28,547
Deaths by county: 16,166 in Maricopa; 3,722 in Pima; 1,566 in Pinal; 1,396 in Mohave; 1,159 in Yavapai; 1,147 in Yuma; 861 in Navajo; 592 in Apache; 546 in Cochise; 459 in Coconino; 364 in Gila; 227 in Santa Cruz; 173 in Graham; 137 in La Paz; and 32 in Greenlee.
People age 65 and older make up 20,176 of the 28,547 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, 54% of those who died were white, 27% were Hispanic or Latino, 7% were Native American, 3% were Black and 1% were Asian/Pacific Islander, the state data shows.
The global death toll as of Wednesday was 6,054,085. The U.S. had the highest death count of any country in the world, at 966,772, followed by Brazil at 655,878 and India at 516,072, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Arizona’s 28,547 deaths represent about 3% of COVID-19 deaths in the United States.
Republic reporter Stephanie Innes contributed to this article.
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