As Arizona sees its highest daily numbers of COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, some urgent cares have begun closing amid staffing issues, while another health system is allowing employees to come into work even if they have COVID-19.
Banner Health, Arizona’s largest hospital system, announced last week it had closed some of its urgent care locations due to staffing availability.
The decision to close urgent cares came as healthcare workers are testing positive for COVID-19, Banner Health chief clinical officer Dr. Marjorie Bessel said in a press conference last week.
Banner Health employs approximately 52,000 people in six states and is the largest private employer in Arizona.
Bessel asked community members to be patient with healthcare workers as they potentially experience longer waits or delays in the days and weeks to come.
“Please also be kind and respectful to your health care workers,” she said. “They have been under immense pressure for the past two years and especially during this most recent surge.”
While some studies have found that the Omicron variant causes less severe disease and a lower correlation of hospitalizations, the sheer number of people becoming infected means that hospitals are still under strain.
Nationwide, more people are currently hospitalized than they were in January of last year, during the pandemic’s last peak, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Dignity Health, another major Valley healthcare provider, announced this week that it is allowing employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 but are asymptomatic or who have mild symptoms to continue working.
Employees can request clearance to work from their manager and must wear an N-95 mask for 10 days after they test positive, according to the Associated Press. Hospital workers in California and Rhode Island have also been given the go-ahead to keep working while positive for COVID-19 to help with the influx of patients.
“We are doing everything we can to ensure our employees can safely return to work while protecting our patients and staff from the transmissibility of COVID-19,” Dignity Health officials said in a statement to the AP.
The hospital updates come as Arizona reported a record-high number of daily COVID-19 cases on Jan. 15, with 24,982 cases. Just two days earlier, the state passed the grim milestone of 25,000 deaths from COVID-19.
And with the increase in cases, the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) said Friday it was seeing an increase in people with no symptoms or mild symptoms showing up to emergency rooms to get tested for COVID-19.
ADHS asked that individuals who suspect they may have contracted COVID-19 visit one of the state’s hundreds of testing locations in lieu of trying to access emergency rooms that are trying to help those with medical emergencies
“Arizona’s hospitals are already strained caring for both COVID-19 patients, the vast majority of whom aren’t vaccinated, and others who need medical attention,” ADHS said in a statement. “With emergency rooms on the front lines of the COVID-19 response, we need everyone to help make sure ERs are reserved for immediate medical needs.”
Majority of Hospitalized COVID Patients Are Unvaccinated
Bessel said in her press conference last week that COVID hospitalizations have seen an upward trend since the start of the year, with nearly a third of Banner’s inpatient beds occupied by someone with COVID or suspected COVID patients.
Ninety percent of those were unvaccinated, she said.
Those numbers track with numbers from ADHS, which found that, in November, unvaccinated Arizonans were 31.1 times more likely to die from COVID-19, and 4.9 times more likely to contract COVID-19 compared to their fully vaccinated counterparts.
Bessel and other health officials have continued to issue several recommendations for the public as cases continue to climb: isolate when sick, social distance, wear masks, and above all else, get vaccinated.
“My top ask of the community continues to be the same. It is for all who are eligible to get vaccinated and receive your boosters if you have not yet done so,” Bessel said. “This is the best way to prevent serious COVID illness that requires hospital-level care.”