Hospitalizations continue to drop as state reports 3,212 new COVID-19 cases, 68 new deaths

Hospitalizations continue gradual declines from their mid-July peaks, as Arizona reported another 3,212 new COVID-19 cases on Friday and 68 more known deaths.

Inpatient hospitalizations, ICU beds in use, ventilators in use and emergency department visits by suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients all continued gradual downward trends on Thursday, according to hospital data reported to the state. But hospitals remain under high pressure, with many COVID-19 patients.

Identified cases rose to 174,010 and known deaths totaled 3,694, according to the daily report by the Arizona Department of Health Services. 

The 68 new known deaths reported Friday represent the new deaths identified by the Arizona Department of Health Services that day, but many occurred days and weeks prior. Given slow test result turnaround times, new daily reported cases often represent cases that occurred days and weeks prior.

Public health experts have noticed signs Arizona’s COVID-19 outbreak may be moderating, but more time is needed to know for sure.

Friday’s dashboard shows 84% of inpatient beds and 86% of ICU beds were in use, which includes people being treated for COVID-19 and other patients. Overall, 45% of ventilators were in use.

Most people who get the disease are not hospitalized. The state does not report the number of recovered cases, although it does report hospital discharges.

For much of the pandemic, testing did not keep up with the virus’ spread, although the state recently has worked to expand testing. Over the past three weeks, cases increased by 49% and tests increased by 40%. Of known test results from last week, 12% have come back positive. A high percentage of positive tests means there is not enough broad testing and the virus is widespread.

Turnaround on test results is still slow. Sonora Quest Laboratories, which processes the majority of the state’s tests, is still backlogged and reporting results in nine to 12 days. Priority samples from hospitals are processed within 24 hours, according to a spokesperson. Sonora Quest says it should clear the backlog by Sunday. (Initially, the state had said Friday.)

Here’s what you need to know about Friday’s new numbers.

Reported cases in Arizona: 174,010

  • Cases increased by 3,212, or 1.9%, from Thursday’s 170,798 identified cases since the outbreak began.
  • County cases: 117,293 in Maricopa, 16,167 in Pima, 10,880 in Yuma, 7,990 in Pinal, 5,202 in Navajo, 2,994 in Apache, 2,947 in Coconino, 2,918 in Mohave, 2,599 in Santa Cruz, 1,733 in Yavapai, 1,503 in Cochise, 809 in Gila, 469 in La Paz, 451 in Graham and 55 in Greenlee, according to state numbers.
  • The state’s total case count includes individuals who tested positive on a diagnostic PCR test as well as individuals who tested positive on an antibody test who had COVID-19 symptoms or were linked to a known case. Of the cases, 99% are individuals with a positive diagnostic test, according to the state health department.
  • The rate of cases per 100,000 people is highest in Santa Cruz County, followed by Yuma, Navajo and Apache counties.
  • The Navajo Nation reported 9,019 cases and 454 confirmed deaths as of Thursday. The Navajo Nation includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
  • The Arizona Department of Corrections said 850 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Thursday; 6,078 inmates have been tested out of a population of about 39,400. Six incarcerated people have been confirmed to have died of COVID-19, with 12 additional deaths under investigation.
  • While race/ethnicity is unknown for 48% of cases, 24% of cases are Hispanic or Latino, 17% of cases are white, 6% are Native American and 2% are Black.
  • Laboratories have completed 933,743 diagnostic tests for COVID-19, 14.5% of which have come back positive. The percent of positive tests increased since mid-May but appears to be decreasing. It was 12% for tests that have come back so far from last week, and 16% from the week prior.

Reported deaths: 3,694 known deaths 

  • On Friday, 68 new deaths were reported, although many likely occurred on previous days or weeks.
  • County deaths: 2,054 in Maricopa, 459 in Pima, 254 in Yuma, 187 in Navajo, 149 in Mohave, 136 in Pinal, 130 in Apache, 117 in Coconino, 60 in Yavapai, 50 in Santa Cruz, 48 in Cochise, 29 in Gila, 10 in La Paz, nine in Graham and fewer than three in Greenlee.
  • People aged 65 and older made up 2,664 of the 3,694 deaths, or 72%.
  • While race/ethnicity is unknown for 15% of deaths, 39% of those who died were white, 28% were Hispanic or Latino, 12% were Native American and 3% were Black.

Hospitalizations continue declining

  • Inpatients with suspected and confirmed COVID-19 tallied 2,302 on Thursday, continuing a gradual plateau and decline over the past three weeks. Hospitalizations have eclipsed 1,000 daily since June 1 and had surpassed 3,000 daily for most of July until last week. Inpatient hospitalizations are gradually decreasing.
  • ICU bed use for suspected and confirmed positive COVID-19 patients was at 719 beds in use on Thursday, down from Wednesday’s 758 beds in use. Prior to Wednesday, the metric had not dropped below 800 beds in use since July 3. Occupied beds have seen slight decreases over the past two weeks. 
  • Ventilator use for suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients was at 505 on Thursday, down from Wednesday’s 531 ventilators in use, and generally continuing what appears to be a two-week long gradual decrease. A record high 687 ventilators in use was hit July 16.
  • Emergency department visits for patients with suspected and confirmed COVID-19 was at 1,195 on Thursday. Generally, with a few exceptions, daily ER visits appear to be trending downward. Daily ER visits surpassed 1,000 on June 16 and have been above that level every day but two since. During April and May, emergency department daily visits for COVID-19 were typically in the 400s and 500s, rising into the 600s in the last few days of May.
  • The number of patients with suspected and confirmed positive COVID-19 discharged from hospitals was at 356 patients discharged on Thursday. July has seen relatively high discharge numbers.

Key figures to watch

Case counts may be moderating. Over the past two to three weeks, the daily number of new cases reported by the state Health Department has started to flatten, one of the first potentially promising signs in Arizona’s COVID-19 battle. More time is needed to see how testing fluctuations and results backlogs may be influencing case counts. 

The percentage of positive tests is still high. The percentage of positive tests out of all tests per week seems to be plateauing or decreasing, but it remains high. Percent positives were at 16% two weeks ago, compared with 19% three weeks ago, 21% four weeks ago and 20% five weeks ago, per health department data. It’s at 12% so far for tests that have come in from last week, and 11% so far for this week, but most test results are still outstanding. When the state decided to reopen on May 16, that number had been trending down to as low as 5%.

Reach the reporter at or at 602-444-4282. Follow her on Twitter @alisteinbach.

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