Arizona Health Care System Can't Take Much More, Current Surge Has Yet to Peak: Doctor

The Arizona Medical Association (ArMA) released a statement Friday pleading with residents to take more measures to help curb the spread of COVID-19, saying the health care system has been overwhelmed with a spike in cases.

According to data from the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), the state experienced a record-breaking 19,346 cases on January 5. As of January 13, the department reported 95 percent of hospital inpatient beds were in use, with a third of the beds specifically going to COVID-19 patients.

In the statement, Dr. Miriam Anand, president of the ArMA, said experts are predicting this surge has not peaked yet.

"Over the course of the pandemic, we have faced many challenges; however, what we are up against today is unparalleled," Anand said.

The ADHS data also showed 72 percent of emergency department beds were in use as of January 13. Anand said with such a high hospitalization rate, it is possible health care professionals will have to turn patients away.

"As physicians, we are working our absolute hardest to avoid this terrible scenario, but we cannot do it without the public's help," she said in her statement. "Please, get vaccinated, get boosted, and follow the recommended mitigation guidelines."

The increase in COVID-19 cases has largely been attributed to the Omicron variant, which spreads more rapidly but experts have said causes less severe illness, though that could also be attributed to the vaccine's widespread availability.

According to the ADHS, about 55.7 percent of Arizonans have received at least two doses of the vaccine. In its statement, the ArMA urged more to get their vaccines and booster doses.

The association also recommended following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations such as social distancing and "masking up in public." Currently, the state does not have a mask mandate in place.

KSAZ-TV, a Phoenix news station, reported Wednesday leaders in Maricopa County, where the state capital is located, have begun to push for Governor Doug Ducey to implement a mandate.

The Biden administration has even gotten involved in the matter, with KTAR-FM reporting January 14 the U.S. Treasury Department threatened to take back COVID-19 relief money after the state deemed schools with mask requirements ineligible for a state funding program.

The Phoenix area station said that school districts requiring masks do not qualify for Arizona's Education Plus-Up Grant Program, which provides $163 million in school funding. The Treasury gave the state 60 days to remove the exemption or it would recoup potentially billions in relief funds provided to the state.

In a Twitter post, the ADHS asked people to only visit hospital emergency rooms if absolutely necessary to avoid further overwhelming the state's medical staff.

Arizona, COVID-19, testing center
Arizona health professionals are asking more people to get the COVID-19 vaccine and wear masks as cases surge in the state. Above, a nurse checks vitals of a Navajo woman with COVID-19 symptoms, at a testing center at the Navajo Nation town of Monument Valley in Arizona on May 21, 2020. Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images