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COVID ICU cases increase again in Az, more kids treated for coronavirus, Banner top doc says

'Please go get vaccinated; protect yourself from death' — Dr. Bessel

COVID-19 ICU admissions have increased in recent weeks at Arizona’s largest network of hospitals, Banner Health’s top clinical officer said Tuesday, following a week that also saw the state's largest spike in infections in six months.

The number of children being treated for the coronavirus is also on the rise here, said Dr. Marjorie Bessel.

"Please go get vaccinated; protect yourself from death and hospitalizations with this very, very transmissible Delta variant," Bessel said during a news conference.

Over the past week, Banner hospitals in Arizona have continued to see an increase in COVID emergency room visits, hospitalizations, ICU admissions and ventilator usage, said Bessel, the network's top doctor.

Currently, Banner Health has 435 patients in their intensive care units, 90 of which are COVID patients. That number is close to the 484 patients that were in their ICUs last year during the peak of the summer COVID surge, Bessel said.

COVID patients spend "quite a bit of time" in the ICU, she said, often more than a week, followed by multiple weeks of further treatment.

Banner hospitals are not operating under any capacity constraints, Bessel said, but she strongly encouraged everyone to get vaccinated because she expects that they will reach capacity if cases and hospitalizations continue on their current trajectory. There's also no plan to halt surgeries, but Bessel said enough people need to get their shots to avoid doing so.

Children make up 5 percent of their total COVID hospital admissions, she said. In the month of July, their hospitals had 71 COVID-positive pediatric admissions, which was double the number from June. The current number of kids who are hospitalized in enhanced precaution or who are undergoing testing for COVID is 50, but Banner Health hasn’t yet released the number of total pediatric hospital admissions.

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Bassel said ICU admission and ventilator usage for pediatric patients is low as they typically require only progressive care, a less severe level of treatment, but she added that “this does not mean that the virus cannot have a serious impact on children.”

The number of non-COVID patients in ICUs is also high for a summer month, Bessel said, saying that hospitals are seeing an increase in admissions for respiratory diseases that aren’t typical for the season.

Banner has two hospitals in Tucson, including University Medical Center on North Campbell Avenue, and Banner University Medical Center South on East Ajo Way. Banner also manages a third facility north of the University of Arizona campus, as well as several clinics and other facilities in Tucson.

To parents who are sending their kids back to school, Bessel made three recommendations: first get kids vaccinated if they’re 12 or older — the current age limit for getting vaccinated — make sure they mask up and keep them home if they’re feeling sick.

Arizona saw 2,582 new COVID cases added to its total on Tuesday, bringing the number of new infections in the past week to more than 17,400 and the total number of cases in Arizona to 950,827 as concerns grow over the spread of the Delta variant.

Locally, Pima County had 242 more COVID cases reported on Tuesday, bringing the total cases to ​​122,012. Pima County and Arizona have also seen 2,468 and 18,400 COVID deaths, respectively.

On Monday, the level of community transmission of COVID in Pima County went from “substantial” to “high,” according to the data tracking system used by the Centers for Disease Control.

In late July, Banner Health required all its employees to be vaccinated by November 1. Bessel said they still have "a ways to go" as a large number of their employees are in the process of getting vaccinated or submitting their vaccine card to them.

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member.

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Dr. Marjorie Bessel during an August 3 press conference.

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