GLENDALE — Arizona has hit a grim milestone in its battle with the new coronavirus as deaths topped 1,000 on Friday and the number of new infections soared to a new high.
The state Department of Health Services reported 16 new deaths, bringing the total to 1,012 since the first death was revealed on March 21. The department said 1,578 new cases were tallied, by far the highest daily count since the outbreak began.
The number of emergency room visits and hospitalized patients also hit records. Hospitals told the department that 713 people were seen in emergency rooms Thursday and 1,234 people were hospitalized.
The number of people confirmed infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, is now at 24,332.
Gov. Doug Ducey allowed his stay-home orders to end May 15. A surge of new cases began about 10 days later — about the time it takes an infected person to develop symptoms.
Ducey didn't appear overly concerned Thursday, when he said the surge in cases wasn't unexpected and not yet a trend that merited a reimposition of restrictions. And he noted that no matter what is done, the virus isn't going away.
"We mourn every death in the state of Arizona," Ducey said. "Everything we have done since the first emergency order on March 11 and the first executive order to protect people in long-term care has been to reduce the spread of this virus and to save and protect as many lives as possible."
"And I'm confident we've made the best and most responsible decisions possible guided by public health the entire way," he said.
More than 75% of the deaths happened in Arizonans aged 65 and older — many believed to be living in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, although the department refuses to confirm the numbers. Older people with pre-existing conditions are most vulnerable to the disease.
But younger people have not been unaffected: two of the deaths were in people under age 20, and 49 people in the 20-44 year-old age group have died.
A case tracker updated daily by Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute shows the three-day average number of COVID-19 cases hit a monthly low of 222 on May 25. By Wednesday the three-day average topped 1,000 new cases per day.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.