Reported cases of COVID-19 are continuing to increase and a higher portion of tests are coming back positive for the virus, according to the Arizona’s latest weekly update.
Health officials on Wednesday reported a high 11,498 new COVID-19 cases and 40 new known deaths over the weeklong period ending May 21. That’s the highest case report since Arizona switched to weekly updates at the start of March.
Cases reported from tests done during the past week were the highest they’ve been in three months, state data shows, but still far lower than the winter. Case numbers in recent months likely are not showing the full picture of infections as many more people have used at-home test kits and may not report positive results to county health departments.
Reported cases since the pandemic began are at more than 2 million. Known deaths in Arizona are at about 30,300.
Wednesday marked the 13th of the weekly updates to the state’s data dashboard, instead of daily updates that Arizonans became accustomed to following for the latest data on infections, illnesses and deaths.
The previous week’s update added 7,204 cases and 29 deaths, compared with 5,490 cases and 41 deaths, 3,911 cases and 238 deaths, 2,350 cases and 99 deaths, 2,377 cases and 29 deaths (low because of a processing error), 2,777 cases and 142 deaths, 6,840 cases and 413 deaths, 10,143 cases (high because of a reporting catch-up) and 385 deaths, 4,566 cases and 336 deaths, 5,153 cases and 457 deaths, 6,549 cases and 382 deaths, and 9,647 cases and 449 deaths the 11 weeks prior.
This week’s update shows the differences between data reported for the week of May 15-21 and the week of May 8-14.
Health officials say moving to weekly updates matches how public health monitors trends and other disease reporting.
Case numbers generally were relatively lower in the past couple months, and public health experts estimate cases of the highly contagious omicron variant peaked in Arizona around mid-January.
The state data dashboard no longer shows key hospitalization information since Gov. Doug Ducey ended the COVID-19 emergency declaration on March 30. State health officials said hospitals are no longer required to report some COVID-19 surveillance data to the state, meaning certain graphs showing weekly hospitalization levels for the disease and bed usage by COVID-19 patients are no longer updated.
At the time that data reporting stopped, hospitalizations for the disease had dropped steadily since late January.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still reports state hospitalization data for Arizona and showed a 3.1% increase in the seven-day average of COVID-19 hospital admissions from May 16-22 compared with May 9-15. Hospital admissions last week were down 90.5% from the peak seven-day average in early January 2021.
The number of known deaths in the state was at 30,299 as of Wednesday, after passing 30,000 known deaths in the May 4 update, 29,000 deaths in the March 30 update, 28,000 deaths in the March 9 update, 27,000 deaths on Feb. 10 and 26,000 deaths on Jan. 28. The state surpassed 25,000 deaths on Jan. 13. Deaths are now reported with a four-week lag.
Arizona’s overall pandemic death rate since early 2020 is third-highest nationwide.
State data on breakthrough infections
The state in December began publicly disclosing data on breakthrough COVID-19 infections, and state officials say the data underscores the effectiveness of the vaccine — especially for people with booster doses.
The majority of cases, hospitalizations and deaths are among people not fully vaccinated and boosted.
Data from March show that 25.7% of cases, 27.1% of hospitalizations and 22% of COVID-19 deaths were among fully vaccinated people without a booster, with most of the rest among unvaccinated people. Fully vaccinated people with a booster made up 24.6% of reported cases, 20% of hospitalizations and 25.7% of deaths in March.
The COVID-19 virus’ disproportionate impact on older adults, who are also more likely to have a booster dose, could help explain why a higher percentage of people who were fully vaccinated and boosted died of COVID-19 in March than those who were fully vaccinated and not boosted. The effectiveness of boosters also appears to wane after several months. But the precise explanation for those percentages of deaths is unclear.
Looking at the proportions of deaths by vaccination status does not tell the risk, though. State health officials recommend considering the rates of death among boosted individuals versus unvaccinated individuals, which show significantly lower death rates in vaccinated and boosted individuals compared with unvaccinated individuals.
Health officials emphasize the best protection against severe illness from COVID-19 is to remain up to date with recommended vaccinations, including second booster doses for those 50 and older and people who are immunocompromised.
Unvaccinated adults in Arizona had a 4.3 times greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19, 13 times greater risk of hospitalization from COVID-19 and 19 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19 in March compared with fully vaccinated people with a booster, according to state data.
Unvaccinated adults had a 5.2 times greater risk of testing positive, 7.4 times greater risk of hospitalization and 13 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19 compared with individuals who were fully vaccinated without a booster.
As of April 20, there had been 1,867 breakthrough deaths in fully vaccinated individuals, according to state health officials’ preliminary data, which works out to a breakthrough death rate of 0.04% among fully vaccinated people.
Case rates and death reports
The omicron variant and other versions of omicron are still contributing to many of the cases in Arizona, according to results from sequencing labs.
Percent positivity, which refers to the percentage of COVID-19 diagnostic tests that are positive, varies somewhat based on how it’s measured. It was high in winter months, a sign of more community spread. It’s recently been much lower, but has been climbing upward the past several weeks.
For most of December, Arizona’s percent positivity for COVID-19 testing was at 11%-13%, before rising to 22% for the week of Dec. 26, 29% for the week of Jan. 2, 32% for the week of Jan. 9, 34% for the week of Jan. 16, 29% for the week of Jan. 23, 22% for the week of Jan. 30, 16% for the week of Feb. 6, 11% for the week of Feb. 13, 7% for the week of Feb. 20, 4% for the week of Feb. 27, 3% for the week of Mar. 6, 3% for the week of Mar. 13, 3% for the week of Mar. 20, 3% for the week of Mar. 27, 3% for the week of April 3, 4% for the week of April 10, 5% for the week of April 17, 6% for the week of April 24, 9% for the week of May 1, 11% for the week of May 8 and 16% for the week of May 15. The percentages are now for all diagnostic tests conducted, rather than for unique individuals tested, following a change to the state dashboard.
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A positivity rate of 5% or less is considered a good benchmark that the disease’s spread is under control.
The state’s overall COVID-19 death and case rates since Jan. 21, 2020 still remain among the worst in the country.
The COVID-19 death rate in Arizona since the pandemic began is 415 deaths per 100,000 people as of Tuesday, according to the CDC, putting it third in the country in a state ranking that separates New York City from New York state. The U.S. average is 301 deaths per 100,000 people as of Tuesday, according to the CDC.
New York City has the highest death rate, at 480 deaths per 100,000 people, followed by Mississippi at 418.
Arizona’s first known death from the disease occurred in mid-March 2020.
Many of the reported deaths occurred days or weeks before because of reporting delays and death certificate matching.
A total of 2,049,627 COVID-19 cases were identified across the state through May 21.
Arizonans ages 5 and older are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, while the Moderna vaccine is approved for those 18 and older. The FDA has approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on a more limited basis for people 18 and older. Many individuals are eligible for booster doses, too.
The state reported about 5.1 million people in Arizona — about 71.2% of the total state population — had received at least one vaccine dose through May 21, with about 4.4 million residents fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The state’s data dashboard now separates out doses administered to Arizona residents versus all doses administered in the state.
Arizona’s rate of fully vaccinated people out of the total population is 61.9%, which is behind the national rate of 66.6%, according to the CDC as of Tuesday.
Out of the vaccine-eligible population, people ages five and older, 65.8% of those in Arizona are fully vaccinated, compared with 70.8% at the national level, CDC data shows.
Health experts strongly recommend booster shots for those eligible, especially with the omicron variant spreading. About 45.9% of fully vaccinated Arizonans over the age of 18 had received a booster shot as of Tuesday, below the national rate of 50.1% for that same age group.
What to know about latest numbers
Reported cases in Arizona: 2,049,627, as of May 21.
Cases by county: 1,296,530 in Maricopa; 258,470 in Pima; 133,615 in Pinal; 62,829 in Yuma; 57,960 in Mohave; 48,765 in Yavapai; 44,504 in Coconino; 38,649 in Navajo; 31,809 in Cochise; 22,689 in Apache; 17,492 in Gila; 16,746 in Santa Cruz; 12,096 in Graham; 5,238 in La Paz; and 2,235 in Greenlee, according to state numbers.
The rate of cases per 100,000 people since the pandemic began is highest in Navajo County, followed by Gila, Apache, Santa Cruz, Graham and Coconino counties, according to state data. The rate in Navajo County is 34,256 cases per 100,000 people. By comparison, the U.S. average rate since the pandemic began is 25,084 cases per 100,000 people as of Tuesday, according to the CDC.
The Navajo Nation reported 53,946 cases and 1,777 confirmed deaths as of Tuesday. The Navajo Nation includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
The Arizona Department of Corrections reported 14,964 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday, including 2,471 in Tucson, 2,278 in Eyman, 2,234 in Yuma, 1,745 in Lewis and 1,254 in Phoenix; 55,910 inmates statewide have been tested. A total of 5,042 prison staff members have self-reported testing positive, the department said. Sixty-two incarcerated people in Arizona are confirmed to have died of COVID-19, with 14 additional deaths under investigation.
The race/ethnicity breakdown of cases since the start of the pandemic in 2020 is 40% white, 29% Hispanic or Latino, 5% American Indian, 4% Black and 2% Asian/Pacific Islander. Race/ethnicity of positive cases since the onset of the pandemic is unknown in 14% of cases, and listed as other race in 6% of cases.
Of those who have tested positive in Arizona since the start of the pandemic, about 21% were younger than 20, 42% were 20-44, 13% were 45-54, 11% were 55-64 and 12% were age 65 or older.
Laboratories had completed 19,534,476 total diagnostic tests for COVID-19 as of May 21, 12% of which have come back positive. That number includes both PCR and antigen testing. Percent positivity was at 16% for the week of May 15, higher than recent weeks. The state numbers leave out data from labs that do not report electronically.
The state Health Department includes probable cases as anyone with a positive antigen test, another type of test to determine infection. Antigen tests (not related to antibody tests) use a nasal swab or another fluid sample to test for current infection. Results are typically produced within 15 minutes.
A positive antigen test result is considered very accurate, but there’s an increased chance of false-negative results, Mayo Clinic officials said. They say a doctor may recommend a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test to confirm a negative antigen test result.
Arizona as of Tuesday had the 14th highest overall case rate in the country since Jan. 21, 2020. Ahead of Arizona in cases per 100,000 people since the pandemic began are Rhode Island, Alaska, North Dakota, Kentucky, Tennessee, Utah, New York City, South Carolina, Guam, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Florida and Delaware, according to the CDC.
Arizona’s infection rate is 28,001 cases per 100,000 people, according to the CDC. The national average is 25,084 cases per 100,000 people, although the rates in states hard hit early in the pandemic may be an undercount because of a lack of available testing in March and April 2020.
Reported deaths in Arizona: 30,299
Deaths by county: 17,364 in Maricopa; 3,859 in Pima; 1,669 in Pinal; 1,459 in Mohave; 1,214 in Yavapai; 1,183 in Yuma; 910 in Navajo; 614 in Apache; 576 in Cochise; 478 in Coconino; 386 in Gila; 232 in Santa Cruz; 178 in Graham; 144 in La Paz; and 33 in Greenlee.
People age 65 and older make up 21,479 of the 30,299 deaths, or 71%. About 16% of deaths were among people 55-64 years old, 8% were 45-54 and 6% were 20-44 years old.
While race/ethnicity was unknown for 4% of deaths, 56% of those who died were white, 26% were Hispanic or Latino, 7% were Native American, 3% were Black and 1% were Asian/Pacific Islander, the state data shows.
The global death toll as of Wednesday was 6,281,385. The U.S. had the highest death count of any country in the world, at 1,003,055, followed by Brazil at 666,129 and India at 524,507, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Arizona’s 30,299 deaths represent about 3% of COVID-19 deaths in the United States.
Republic reporter Stephanie Innes contributed to this article.
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