Arizona remains a national hotspot for the pandemic, but at least new cases have begun to fall from their peak — with a 22% decline in the past two weeks.
Deaths continued to rise by 5% as a 14-day average, which isn’t surprising since a peak in deaths normally lags behind a peak in infections.
Meanwhile, hospitalizations early in the week had dropped by 6% over the past two weeks — another sign that a surge in infections perhaps triggered by family meetings during the holidays has begun to subside.
The rollout in vaccinations that confer 95% protection with minimal side effects continues slowly. The websites of Apache, Navajo and Gila counties that have urged people to call to sign up for an appointment to get a vaccine on Monday morning reported the clinics don’t have enough new doses to schedule additional appointments.
Even people in high risk groups find themselves now in the frustrating and frightening position of making daily calls or website visits to the sites in hope of an appointment to get the two shots in the course of a month that confers protection against the virus.
“We are still experiencing supply shortages,” acting Navajo County Health Director Janelle Linn told the Board of Supervisors on Monday. “We’re at the mercy of the manufacturers, federal government and the state. We receive 400 to 1,600 doses per week and we’re hearing a lot of feedback from the public that they’re frustrated and discouraged. A lot of them think the website link is broken. The link is working. There are just not enough vaccines available.”
Gila County had completed at least the first round of inoculating front-line medical workers, teachers and public safety workers, before running out of vaccine and shifting the job of scheduling vaccine clinics to health partners like Banner through the state appointments system. Remaining people in the 1A and 1B groups — including teachers and those older than 75 — last week were advised to just keep checking online for an open appointment. On Monday, the site said no appointments were available.
Apache and Navajo counties, as of last week, hadn’t started on even the high priority groups like teachers and public safety workers, much less other high-priority essential workers and those older than 75.
The high infection rates statewide and the relatively slow rollout of the vaccination program has earned Arizona status as the “least safe” state for COVID-19 in the nation on the Wallet Hub website, based on a variety of measurements. The site’s scoring system gave top-ranked Alaska a score of 95.43 and Arizona a score of 8.20.
Ironically, the Arizona Republican Party this weekend censured Republican Gov. Doug Ducey for pandemic related restrictions on businesses, although the state has fewer restrictions than almost any other state and lifted restrictions faster last spring than almost any other state. Ducey has refused to issue a statewide mask mandate, despite recommendations from the federal government.
The Wallet Hub site (https://wallethub.com/edu/safest-states-during-covid/86567) considered five factors to determine Arizona’s ranking among 50 states and the District of Columbia. As of Jan. 20 on a running six-day average, Arizona’s rates were 10 or 14 time worse than the “safest” state in most of the categories:
• Vaccination rate: 42nd
• Rate of positive tests: 51st
• Hospitalization rate: 51st
• Death rate: 50th
• Transmission rate: 49th
Generally, the states with the lowest vaccination rates were also the states with the highest rate of new cases, deaths and hospitalizations on a per-capita basis, according to the compilation. The figures suggest problems with the vaccine rollout go hand in hand with policy failures in slowing the spread of the virus.
As of Monday according to state and federal reports, the state had reported a total of 728,000 cases and 12,239 deaths.
The high infection rates have spread across the state. Graham County had the highest rate — 167 average daily cases per 100,000 over the past two weeks. Neighboring Greenlee County had the lowest — 38 per 100,000.
Gila County fell somewhere in the middle, with 97 cases per 100,000 — about the same as the statewide average of 93. Navajo County came in below the state average at 83, but Apache County had a relatively high rate of new infection — 113 per 100,000.
Nationally, some 25 million cases have been reported, with the average daily number of new cases down 33% in the past two weeks. Nationally, deaths have declined 5% and hospitalizations 9% in that same period. The U.S. continues to report about 4,000 new deaths daily.
Some 19 million people have now received at least one dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, the only two so far approved in the nation. The first shot confers about 60% protection from the virus. About 3.2 million have gotten the second dose, which boosts the protection to about 95%, with minimal side effects. Reported side effects include a day or so of flu-like symptoms — with some rare cases of more serious allergic reactions also reported. However, the virus itself has far more serious effects — including the death of 1 or 2 percent of those who have tested positive. A larger number of people have probably been infected and recovered without ever getting a test, which means the death rate may be lower.
The federal government reported on Sunday that it had delivered about 41.4 million doses to the states.
Federal health officials on Sunday estimated that by this week perhaps 2 million people a day will be getting inoculated, up from about 1 million a day a week or so ago.
Arizona’s in the bottom 25% when it comes to the percentage of vaccine doses received that have actually been administered, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.
At the start of the week, the state had administered just 47% of the 1 million doses it has received. About 4.6% of the state’s population has received the first dose and less than 1 % has received two doses.
Epidemiologists say that the pandemic won’t be substantially controlled until about 80 or 90 % of the population has either been vaccinated or recovered from an infection. Health experts hope to pass that threshold sometime this summer, providing people prove more willing to get the vaccine.
When Payson schools offered all teachers and school staff a free shot just after Christmas about one third of those eligible decided not to get vaccinated. Nursing homes also report that a large percentage of the staff have opted not to get the free vaccine.
If that plays out in the whole population, even mass vaccination may not prove enough to stop the spread of the virus to people who have refused to get the shot or to unvaccinated populations — like children.