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Opinion

COVID-19 cases are spiking in Arizona & elsewhere: Here’s what you need to know

As is the case around the country, Arizona is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases amid the spread of the extraordinarily contagious Omicron variant. The COVID-19 Cases by Day graph on the ADHS COVID-19 Dashboard shows a surge beginning two days after Christmas, with more than 7,000 cases and even 8,000-plus cases on days for which we'd expect to have the majority of results reported.

And those numbers likely aren't catching all positive cases. Unlike previous spikes, there is now a considerable supply of at-home COVID-19 tests. Everyone who gets a positive result from an at-home test should report it to their primary care doctor, but there no doubt are plenty of cases in which people who don't require medical care aren't reporting positive results. People testing positive should isolate at home following the most up-to-date guidance.

There's still much to learn about Omicron, but there is growing evidence that cases and hospitalizations may not correlate as strongly as other surges. But don't bet your health on that. Our guidance remains.

  • Get vaccinated and boosted (ages 12-15 are likely to be eligible for boosters soon): azhealth.gov/findvaccine.
  • Get kids ages 5 and older vaccinated.
  • Get your flu shot to help preserve hospital capacity: azhealth.gov/flu.
  • Mask up, physically distance, keep your hands washed, stay home if sick, and follow other prevention steps detailed at azhealth.gov/COVID-19; and
  • If you contract COVID-19, get tested early and see if you qualify for monoclonal antibody treatments to reduce the severity of your illness: azdhs.gov/mAbs (follow link to mAbs for Patients). In addition, antiviral pill treatments are available in extremely limited supply at the moment. 

At ADHS, our pandemic response efforts continue in partnership with county health departments.

HOSPITALS: The state's surge staffing initiative providing nurses to Arizona hospitals is ramping up again after the holidays. ADHS has recruited and paid 2,163 nurses overall and 871 since the latest recruitment began.

SCHOOLS: With school resuming following the holiday, free pooled testing is available to help quickly identify COVID-19 cases and keep as many kids as possible learning in person. You can learn more about this program at azhealth.gov/k12testing. Forty-two local education agencies including 366 schools in nine counties are taking part in free pooled testing. Another 16 local education agencies including 41 schools currently are onboarding. This program pools samples from different individuals, then runs a single diagnostic test. If there is a positive result, rapid antigen tests are used to identify affected students.

ADHS guidance continues to urge schools to use layered mitigation strategies that include universal and correct use of masks and physical distancing, with screening testing available as an added layer of protection.

TESTING:  Since October 2020, ADHS has distributed over 3.1 million BinaxNOW tests as well as other rapid tests to partners, including county and tribal health departments, congregate care facilities, schools, correctional facilities, and providers.

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It appears that COVID will become endemic based on its persistent character, though it isn't clear how soon that may happen. In the meantime, vaccination, mitigation, and testing are the keys to protecting our most vulnerable and preserving hospital capacity.

Jessica Rigler is an assistant director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, overseeing the Division of Public Health Preparedness, which spans the areas of Epidemiology and Disease Control, Emergency Medical Services, Public Health Statistics, Public Health Emergency Preparedness and the Arizona State Public Health Laboratory.

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