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With Az’s health care system at breaking point, experts plead for vaccinations, masks & distancing

As the Omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to spread like wildfire in Arizona and shatter previous records in the pandemic, health experts are pleading with people to vaccinate, mask up and socially distance themselves. 

“You eat a heart healthy diet, you improve your chances of not dying from heart disease by 10 to 15%. The vaccine improves your chances of not dying from COVID by 3,000%,” Dr. Joshua LaBaer, executive director of Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, said Wednesday.

On Wednesday the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 18,783 new cases of COVID, the highest single day reporting of cases during the entire pandemic, breaking the previous record set Jan. 3, 2021, when there were 17,234 new cases. 

Testing is reaching an all time high, as well, with Embry Health reporting more than 48,000 appointments for COVID-19 testing booked in a single day, a record for the agency. 

Arizona has been seeing a steep rise in cases, with an increase in the daily number of cases reported of more than 350% in the roughly two and a half weeks since Christmas. 

“That is the steepest rate of rise we have seen since this all began,” LaBaer said about the rapid pace in which positive COVID-19 tests have been coming back. LaBaer’s larger concern is what is on the horizon for Arizona’s already taxed and scattered health care system

“We need to be thinking about ways we can reduce stress to the health care system,” LaBaer said. “I’m concerned about the hospitals, I’m concerned about the health care workers.” 

Since the fall of 2021, Arizona hospitals have been at 90% or greater capacity, and the number of emergency room beds in use by COVID-19 patients has been rising to its highest numbers since the start of the pandemic. 

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Currently, 74% of all ER beds are in use by COVID-19 patients — a record high — and more people than ever have been seen in ERs around the state for the virus.

While the Omicron variant that is currently infecting thousands of Arizonans may not be as deadly as the Delta variant that came before, it still can be deadly to those with underlying health conditions, the elderly and the unvaccinated, according to the World Health Organization

“Never underestimate nature, never underestimate biology,” LaBaer said about Omicron and those who have been deliberately getting Omicron to “get it over with.” 

“Health is not something you want to gamble with,” LaBaer said, adding that the long-term impacts of COVID are still largely unknown. 

LaBaer and his colleagues once again pushed the importance of vaccinations, propper masking and distancing whenever possible. LaBaer said he is advocating for the citizens of Arizona to continue wearing masks in any indoor settings, distancing whenever possible and testing as soon as possible if symptoms begin or a person has been exposed to someone ill. 

Anyone seeking a vaccination can find vaccine information online for Pima County here,  Maricopa County here and statewide here. A guide to finding a proper N95 or comparable mask can be found here.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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