Aug 24, 2023 - COVID

COVID hospitalizations fell in Arizona, but signs point to late summer wave nationally

Data: CDC; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: CDC; Chart: Axios Visuals

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Arizona fell 4% between June and July, though state health officials noticed a slight increase at the beginning of August.

By the numbers: Arizona saw about 2.2 COVID hospitalizations per 100,000 people in July, down from about 2.3 in June.

  • The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) has recorded 7,585 COVID cases over the past six months, 12% of which required hospitalization.
  • Recent data indicate that hospitalizations increased from July 30 to Aug. 5, but it'll take more time for ADHS to see what the numbers look like for August as a whole, agency spokesperson Tom Hermann tells Axios Phoenix.
  • Cases have been on the upswing since early July, he says, and more cases generally means more hospitalizations.

Yes, but: Rising COVID numbers nationwide point to a late summer wave of the virus, Alex Fitzpatrick and Kavya Beheraj report.

  • A new variant, EG.5, is now the dominant form in the U.S., according to CDC estimates — though it's unclear if it's directly responsible for the rising numbers.
  • That subvariant has been on the rise in Arizona and is expected to become more prevalent here, though it won't necessarily pose a major public health threat, The Arizona Republic reported earlier this month.
  • Only 16 states reported August decreases in COVID hospitalizations, 12 of which had larger drops than Arizona.
  • The average COVID-19 hospitalization rate nationwide rose about 17% between June and July, per the latest available CDC data.

Reality check: In both percentage change and raw terms, nationwide hospitalizations remain far below their pandemic-era peak.

  • They're down 82% year over year, while the CDC reports 10,320 overall hospital admissions in the week between July 30-Aug. 5. That's compared to more than 150,000 in one week in January 2022.
  • Arizona's year-over-year numbers are roughly on par with the national figures, with hospitalizations down 81% from this time in 2022.

Why it matters: Simply put, our guard is down.

  • Many of us put COVID in our rearview mirrors, leaving us both mentally and practically ill-prepared for another wave.
  • "Experts warn the U.S. is lacking critical tools to help manage future waves," as Axios' Sabrina Moreno recently reported.

Be smart: With so little testing happening these days compared to the height of the pandemic, hospitalization rates are now one of the best proxies for estimating broader viral spread.

Of note: Updated vaccines that will be effective against EG.5, as well as the XBB.1.5 variant that was dominant earlier this year and the FL.1.5.1 variant, known as Fornax, which has also gained steam, are still weeks away.

  • Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax said early trial data show their updated shots are effective against the dominant EG.5 variant.

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