Health director says rate of positive tests stable in Arizona

Posted 7/8/20

PHOENIX — Arizona’s rate of new infections of COVID-19 is skyrocketing.

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Health director says rate of positive tests stable in Arizona


PHOENIX — Arizona’s rate of new infections of COVID-19 is skyrocketing.

An analysis of figures by Capitol Media Services show that there were nearly 27,000 new confirmed cases in the most recent seven-day period available.

Looking at it another way, that computes out to nearly 3,700 new infections this past week for every million Arizona residents.

The New York Times, looking at its own data set, puts the figure at closer to 3,300. But even at that, the paper says the rate of new infections here, computed at a rate of per million residents, is higher not just than any state in the country but any other country in the world.

Gubernatorial press aide Patrick Ptak called that conclusion “misleading and inaccurate.” And part of that, he said, is that Arizona is doing so much more testing than other countries.

But other data analyzed by Capitol Media Services shows the trend is not headed in the right direction.

The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University figures that, on a seven-day average, Arizona is now adding 3,452 new cases each and every day.

In June, the figure was 843.

In May it was 337 new cases each day on average. And in April it was just 191.

Much of the increase comes in the wake of decisions made by Gov. Doug Ducey to loosen the restrictions he had placed both on individual travel and the kinds of businesses that could be open.

Mr. Ducey, facing rising numbers, has backtracked.

The governor, who for months refused to order Arizonans to wear face masks — and would not wear one himself while out in public — finally relented a bit last month and agreed to allow local officials to impose their own mask requirements.

And last week, as the numbers headed still higher, he reversed course and re-closed bars, water parks, gyms and fitness centers. And he also said that movie theaters also had to shutter, though most had not yet reopened following his original March directives.

State Health Director Cara Christ told Capitol Media Services the good news is that the rate of positive tests has stabilized.

“And, also, the rate of growth is slowing,” she said.

Ms. Christ said she expects to start seeing results from the governor’s more recent actions — the face mask permission and the closure of certain businesses — “probably by the end of next week.” In the meantime, the health director said she will continue to emphasize her message that “you really are safer at home.”

If people decide to go out, she said, they need to “assess their risks,” looking at the number of people to whom they are going to be exposed, how close they will be to those people and for what period of time.

And if that doesn’t bring down the numbers?

Ms. Christ said the most effective move would be to once again disallow dine-in services at restaurants “where you know that people are going to be sitting for longer periods of time in an enclosed area, potentially close to other people.” She said a better alternative is to encourage take-out or at least have people dine outside “because the better ventilation is going to decrease the risk of transmission.”

Ms. Christ said she agrees with Mr. Ptak that Arizona should not be measured against infection rates elsewhere.

“I don’t believe that it’s fair to compare us to other countries that may not have the same access or ability to test their citizens,” she said.

Mr. Ptak said Arizona on Tuesday got the results from 12,212 PCR tests. Those are the ones that determine an active case, versus serology tests which determine if someone had it in the past and has developed antibodies.

That, Mr. Ptak said, workout to to 167 tests per 100,000 residents. By contrast, he said, Brazil is testing just 0.025 residents per 100,000.

And in both Brazil and Peru, he said, the positivity rate is higher.

"This, in combination with their much lower testing, suggests the outbreaks in these places are much larger than is being reported," Mr. Ptak said. And he said that the positivity rate in Arizona now is less than half of what it was when New York hit its peak.

But that tells only part of the story.

Figures from Johns Hopkins University show half of the tests run in New York came back positive in early April. But in that state, which imposed strict controls, there has been a steady decline to the point where just 1.1 percent of all tests now are positive.

By contrast, Arizona has seen a steady increase in positive tests since the middle of May and now stands about 25 percent.

The timing of that is not coincidental.

It was on May 8 that Mr. Ducey agreed to allow barber shops and beauty salons to reopen, albeit with restrictions.

Restaurants were once again allowed to begin sit-down service on May 11, here, too, with limits on the number of people who can be inside.

And on May 16, the governor’s order for people to stay at home except to participate in “essential” activities and services expired.

The result is that 25 percent of tests are coming back positive, versus less than 7 percent before Mr. Ducey eased the restrictions.

On Wednesday, the Department of Health Services reported 36 new deaths, bringing the statewide total to 1,963. There also were 3,520 new cases, with 108,614 Arizonans who at one point or another have been infected.

State health officials say the most recent figures show there were a record 3,421 hospital beds occupied by positive or suspected COVID-19 patients.

That’s more than the number of patients hospitalized for any other reason. Overall, 6,784 of the state’s regular hospital bets were occupied, 85 percent of the regular capacity.

The situation was even more pronounced for intensive-care units, where there are 871 COVID-19 patients, also a new record. Patients in ICUs for other reasons were only about 600, with total occupancy now at 91 percent.

Part of what makes those numbers critical is that the state health department has agreed to allow hospitals to implement the state’s Crisis Standards of Care. That would permit them to triage patients, the way they would during a natural disaster, “to optimize healthcare resources and do the greatest good for the greatest number of patients.”

Put another way, it decides who is to be treated, and in what order, including who gets into intensive care units.

And what that also means, according to the state plan, is providing “comfort care” to patients “for whom curative therapies are futile, given available resources.”

Ms. Christ said she knows of no hospital that has implemented those standards.