April 16 overview

Gila County now has five documented cases of COVID-19, with two new cases in Globe added to the statewide tally on Wednesday.

The Gila County Public Health Department said the two latest positive cases are men, one in his 50s, the other in his 60s. Health workers are tracing their close contacts and haven’t confirmed whether they are cases of community spread of the virus.

Overall, the rate of increase has slowed in most areas of the state. The broad shutdown of the economy and stay-at-home order appears to have reduced the death rate and increase in new cases and hospital visits, according to data published this week on the state department of health services website.

The number of deaths peaked on March 26 at 13. Since then the death toll has dropped to between 2 and 8 per day.

The number of new cases diagnosed daily has remained relatively consistent for the past two weeks, with a spike on April 6. However, that could reflect the steady increase in tests administered, from 22,000 in the week of March 22 to 44,000 last week and 45,000 in the first half of this week.

Hospital admissions of people with fever, cough and trouble breathing may offer another indication of the course of the pandemic in Arizona. This week the state began posting a sampling of data from some of the state’s hospitals tracking both outpatient and inpatient data. The tracking data suggested that in January, COVID-like symptoms accounted for about 3% of outpatient visits and 1.3% of inpatient visits — a snapshot from before the virus hit.

COVID-like cases peaked at 7% on March 21 for outpatient visits and at 3.8% on April 4 for inpatients. As of April 11, COVID symptoms accounted for 4.5% of inpatient visits and 3.4% of outpatient visits in the tracking sample statewide.

Gila County now has just five diagnosed cases and no deaths. The state health department and private labs processed 289 Gila County tests last week and 362 tests in the first half of this week. However, only 1% have come back positive. That compares to roughly 8% statewide. The doubling time for deaths provides another rough indication of how fast the virus is spreading. The doubling time for documented cases isn’t as reliable, since it’s affected by the steady rise in testing. For instance, Navajo County now has 410 cases with 10 deaths, while Apache County has 118 documented cases and four deaths. Deaths are doubling every eight days in Navajo County and every four days in Apache County.

Gila County doesn’t even have enough cases to calculate a meaningful doubling time in infections.

The doubling time for new cases in Maricopa County has slowed to about 12.3 days. Coconino County has 299 cases, with a doubling time of 10.5 days.

Only a handful of areas in the whole nation at this point have a doubling time of less than four days.

Nationally more than 600,000 cases have been documented, compared to just 70 at the start of March. Deaths nationally are just under 30,000. The pandemic has hit the East harder than the West.

Arizona’s doubling time for deaths stands at about seven days, with about 2,400 deaths. New York’s doubling time is six days with more than 11,000 deaths, and Massachusetts has a doubling time of four days with just over 1,700 deaths, according to statistics published by the New York Times.

However, the number of new cases reported daily has leveled off or declined nationally, despite a big increase in the number of tests. Federal officials have lowered projected deaths from 100,000 to 250,000 to more like 60,000 and have shifted to debating when it might be safe to at least partially restart the economy.

The diagnosed cases represent only a fraction of the total infections, since Arizona’s still mostly testing only those with significant symptoms. Between 25% and 50% of those infected probably aren’t showing significant symptoms, according to a growing body of research.

Despite the new data release, Arizona still lags behind many other states in the amount of information available to local officials and residents.

The state has now started posting cases by zip codes, but the numbers remain partial. The map posted on the website leaves off some zip codes and didn’t report results for reservations or some other areas.

Zip codes with hospitals in some cases have a higher rate of infection, which could mean the database to some degree captures where a patient was tested and treated rather than where they live.

The partial figures show the biggest clusters of cases are on the Navajo Reservation, in adjacent communities especially Page and near Scottsdale and Tucson.

The preliminary figures show some inequities by race and income have emerged in Arizona. Nationally, the death rate among blacks and Hispanics has generally been twice the rate among whites. That could reflect differences in housing, income and access to medical care.

In Arizona, Native Americans make up 21% of those who have died of COVID-19, but just 4.5% of the state’s population.

The state’s publicly released figures remain fragmentary, with no record of race in 23% of cases.

White men make up 47% of the COVID-19 cases but 60% of the deaths, consistent with findings in other countries and states. No one’s sure why older men appear more likely to develop life-threatening symptoms. It might have something to do with higher rates of cigarette smoking and underlying medical conditions among men.

Some 150 people have died in Arizona so far. Some 71% of those deaths were among people older than 65 — a total of 101. Other age groups have died at a much lower rate, including four people younger than 45, 14 people aged 45 to 54 and 23 aged 55 to 64.

Deaths in Arizona peaked on March 25 and March 26 — with 23 deaths in two days. Since March 29, the daily death toll has dropped — despite a spike of 8 deaths on April 6. Since then, the death rate has remained between 1 and 5 per day.

Contact the writer at paleshire@payson.com

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(1) comment

Phil Mason

And Banner Payson STARTED erecting Triage Tents on the parking lot last week AFTER the lower statewide cases AND with Gila County having three total cases - two Cruise and Airline travelers and one local person weeks ago infected. What a joke. More flu and dozens of other maladies causing hospitalizations and death than the COVID. Arizona is in the lowest dozen states in positive cases per population. Lets get on with our lives. This should be called the Panicdemic following the normal philosophy of the Demonicrats led by Rahm and buddies of never letting a crisis go to waste. Lives are being shattered more by political partisanship than medical issues.

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