Arizona Coronavirus Death Toll Reaches 8. Expert Says Peak Coming Later This Spring.

doctor taking down information from man wearing a mask in a car

By Jessica Swarner

March 26, 2020

The state health department is now telling hospitals to discourage testing for coronavirus in most patients due to a lack of supplies.

About 100 more people in Arizona were diagnosed with coronavirus in a 24-hour period, bringing the total number of cases to 508 on Thursday.

Eight people have now died from the virus, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Maricopa County saw 299 cases, while there were 75 in Pima, 43 in Navajo, 35 in Pinal, 28 in Coconino, nine in Apache, five in Yavapai, four in Yuma, and two each in Mohave, La Paz, Graham, Cochise, and Santa Cruz. 

Now that the disease has reached more than 12 counties, the state has elevated its description of Arizona’s community spread from “moderate” to “widespread.”

Fifty-two of the positive results came from the state’s public health lab, while 456 came from private labs. 

The state lab has tested a total of 403 people with 33 of those samples pending. It’s unclear how many people in total have been tested in Arizona because private labs have not been reporting the number of administered tests – only their confirmed cases. But those numbers should be coming in soon, as Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order Monday requiring private labs to report the data.

Dr. Cara Christ, the director of the ADHS, gave an idea of what that total is like Wednesday. She said in a press conference that about 6,600 Arizonans have been tested for coronavirus, with about 4.6% of those tests coming back positive. 

Christ added that the numbers will only continue to grow. The state expects the number of cases to peak in mid- to late April, while hospitalizations are likely to peak in May. 

As state and local officials continue working to bring in more medical supplies, Christ noted that Arizona needs 13,000 more hospital beds and 1,500 ICU beds to handle the impending surge of sick patients. 

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the Army Corps of Engineers is working to help the state nearly double its hospital capacity by converting unused rooms and other spaces to patient care areas. 

Testing Woes Continue

Arizona continues to struggle with its procurement and processing of tests for COVID-19. 

According to ABC 15, ADHS sent a letter to healthcare providers on Wednesday urging them to discourage testing for coronavirus for most patients due to a lack of supplies, a practice the agency called an “important change.”

“Clinicians should consider removing this diagnostic ‘tool’ from their toolbox and managing patients with respiratory conditions as if they have COVID-19,” the letter stated. 

The agency said hospitals can continue working with commercial labs for testing, but they should “not depend on having test results for your management” since there is no specific treatment or cure for COVID-19. 

Other recommendations in the letter included conserving protective medical equipment and telling respiratory patients to stay home when sick and during recovery. 

For people who have been tested for coronavirus, the delays in results keep getting longer.

While Christ said March 2 that the state then had the capacity to test 450 samples per day and return same- or next-day results, that’s not the reality for some patients being tested by private labs. 

Copper Courier Managing Editor Brandy Rae Ramirez, who was tested March 16 at a Banner Health hospital in Mesa, was first told her results would take three days, then seven to 10 days. She was told Thursday to now expect results 14 days from the testing date. 

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  • Jessica Swarner

    Jessica Swarner is the community editor for The Copper Courier. She is an ASU alumna and previously worked at KTAR News 92.3 FM in Phoenix.

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