Virus-related ER visits in Arizona up as more seek tests

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Hundreds of people fill out paperwork while waiting to get free COVID test kits at the Pima County Health Department Abrams Public Health Center in Tucson, Ariz., Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. The line for the kits stretched around all four sides of the building from the start of the afternoon's distribution. (Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star via AP)

Virus-related emergency room visits have set a pandemic record in Arizona, where hospitals are crowded, and cases are up even though deaths from COVID-19 have tapered off a bit.

The Arizona Department of Health Services reported Thursday on its daily dashboard, there were 2,371 COVID-19-related ER visits Wednesday, up from 1,407 on December 27. The previous peak of such emergency visits was 2,341 on December 29, 2020.

Dr. Frank LoVecchio, a physician for the Valleywise hospital chain in Phoenix, attributed the jump in part to increased testing demand as more people arrive at emergency departments because they don’t know where to get tested.

“Early one recent morning, about half of the 40 people in line at one of the emergency departments where I work had just walked in to get a test,” said LoVecchio.

He said emergency room staffs prefer people get tests at sites dedicated to that purpose, like the dozens of drive-through sites set up by Embry Health around metro Phoenix or pharmacies like CVS.

Sonora Quest Laboratories, a leading Arizona diagnostic lab, said Thursday it had processed nearly 30,000 COVID-19 diagnostic PCR tests on Tuesday, the most processed in one day since it began testing for the coronavirus on March 20, 2020.

Arizona on Thursday reported 10,679 additional confirmed cases and 16 more deaths.

The state’s seven-day rolling average of new daily deaths dropped during the past two weeks, from 70.3 on Dec. 21 to 60.9 on Tuesday, while the rolling average of daily new cases more than doubled from 2,883.7 to 7,841.9 during the same period, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

COVID-19-related hospitalizations inched upward for the fifth straight day, with virus patients occupying 2,556 inpatient beds statewide as of Wednesday, according to the health agency’s dashboard.

The dashboard said only 91 beds in hospitals’ intensive care units, or 5% of licensed capacity, were available Wednesday. Availability may be even more constricted because some hospitals have said that they lack staff to cover all of their beds.

In other developments:

— The University of Arizona announced Thursday it is shoring up its masking mandate, requiring at least a surgical grade mask be worn in indoor spaces where social distancing is not possible.

The university said on its websites that it no longer considers cloth masks to be adequate, although a cloth mask can be worn over a surgical mask to improve fit and increase protection.

— Arizona State University said Wednesday it was reinstituting a requirement that students and employees make daily self-health checks online or by phone because of the spread of the omicron variant.

Conducting the checks would help the university remain on track to conduct in-person classes during the spring semester, which begins Monday, ASU officials said in an email.

Republished with the permission of the Associated Press.