Reported COVID-19 cases in Arizona declined by 30% last week, and the percentage of tests returning positive for the virus dropped too, the state’s weekly update says.
Health officials on Wednesday added 8,505 new COVID-19 cases and 65 new known deaths over the weeklong period ending Aug. 13. June and July saw relatively similar weekly case additions, and Wednesday’s was the lowest reported since May.
Case counts are still far below the winter, state data shows. 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 their doctors or county health departments.
Arizona, like other states, is still seeing ongoing cases, largely driven by two contagious subvariants of the virus, BA.4 and BA.5, with BA.5 the more dominant of the two. It’s also likely contributing to reinfections given its contagiousness and ability to evade antibodies.
A new booster version of the COVID-19 vaccine that specifically targets the BA.5 subvariant is under review with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and may be available to anyone in the U.S. who is over the age of 12, “in a few short weeks,” White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha told NBC News on Aug. 17.
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 12,224 cases and 81 deaths, compared with 13,501 cases and 59 deaths three weeks ago and 15,034 cases and 74 deaths four weeks ago.
This week’s update shows the differences between data reported for the week of Aug. 14-20 and Aug. 7-13.
Health officials say weekly updates match how public health monitors trends and other disease reporting.
Case numbers generally were relatively lower in the past couple of 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 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meaning certain graphs showing weekly hospitalization levels for the disease and bed usage by COVID-19 patients are no longer updated.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 CDC still reports state hospitalization data for Arizona and showed a 16.3% decrease in the seven-day average of COVID-19 hospital admissions during Aug. 15 – 21 compared with Aug. 8 – 14. Hospital admissions last week were down 86% from the peak seven-day average in early January 2021.
The number of known deaths in the state was at 31,047 as of Wednesday, for the first time surpassing 31,000. The state tally passed 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 the 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.
Data from June show that 23.3% of hospitalizations and 22.4% of COVID-19 deaths were among fully vaccinated people without a booster, with 47.3% of hospitalizations and 42.7% of deaths among unvaccinated people. Fully vaccinated people with a booster made up 29.4% of hospitalizations and 34.9% of deaths in June.
The monthly data no longer includes a breakdown of cases by vaccination status, just hospitalizations and deaths. Health officials said that’s because testing changes, including more at-home testing, made that comparison “far less reliable.”
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 June 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.
As of July 13, there had been 2,057 breakthrough deaths in fully vaccinated individuals, according to state health officials’ preliminary data, which works out to a breakthrough death rate of about 0.04% among fully vaccinated people.
Case rates and death reports
Contagious omicron subvariants, particularly BA.5, are 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 the winter months, a sign of more community spread. Then it was much lower but began climbing upward in April.
Arizona’s percent positivity for COVID-19 testing was at 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, 8% for the week of May 1, 11% for the week of May 8, 15% for the week of May 15, 18% for the week of May 22, 21% for the week of May 29, 22% for the week of June 5, 23% for the week of June 12, 27% for the week of June 19, 26% for the week of June 26, 28% for the week of July 3, 29% for the week of July 10, 29% for the week of July 17, 27% for the week of July 24, 24% for the week of July 31, 22% for the week of Aug. 7 and 18% for the week of Aug. 14.
The percentages are now for all diagnostic tests conducted, rather than for unique individuals tested, after a change to the state dashboard.
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 425 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 311 deaths per 100,000 people as of Tuesday, according to the CDC.
New York City has the highest death rate, at 493 deaths per 100,000 people, followed by Mississippi at 428.
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 2,245,713 COVID-19 cases were identified across the state through Aug. 13.
Arizonans ages 6 months and older are eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, while the Moderna vaccine is approved for children ages 6 months to 5 years and people 18 and older. The CDC has recommended 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 nearly 5.3 million people in Arizona — about 73.8% of the total state population — had received at least one vaccine dose through Aug. 13, with about 4.6 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 was 63%, which was behind the national rate of 67.4%, according to the CDC as of Aug. 17.
Out of people ages 5 and older, 66.9% of those in Arizona were fully vaccinated, compared with 71.5% at the national level, CDC data shows.
Health experts strongly recommend booster shots for those eligible, especially with the omicron variant spreading. About 47.9% of fully vaccinated Arizonans over the age of 18 had received a first booster shot as of Aug. 17, below the national rate of 51.5% for that same age group.
What to know about the latest numbers
Reported cases in Arizona: 2,245,713, as of Aug. 13.
Cases by county: 1,410,942 in Maricopa; 286,501 in Pima; 145,664 in Pinal; 67,098 in Yuma; 63,409 in Mohave; 54,269 in Yavapai; 49,100 in Coconino; 43,527 in Navajo; 35,546 in Cochise; 30,440 in Apache; 19,510 in Gila; 18,298 in Santa Cruz; 13,250 in Graham; 5,707 in La Paz; and 2,442 in Greenlee, according to state numbers.
The rate of cases per 100,000 people since the pandemic began is highest in Apache County, followed by Navajo, Gila, Graham, Santa Cruz and Coconino counties, according to state data. The rate in Apache County is 42,391 cases per 100,000 people. By comparison, the U.S. average rate since the pandemic began is 28,166 cases per 100,000 people as of Tuesday, according to the CDC.
The Navajo Nation reported 71,138 cases and 1,879 confirmed deaths as of Aug. 23. The Navajo Nation includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
The Arizona Department of Corrections reported 15,365 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Monday, the highest number in Tucson with 2,470 confirmed cases. A total of 5,604 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 six 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.
Percent positivity was at 18% for the week of Aug. 14, slightly lower than previous weeks but still at a high level. 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 of all U.S. states and territories since Jan. 21, 2020. Ahead of Arizona in cases per 100,000 people since the pandemic began are Alaska, Rhode Island, North Dakota, Guam, Kentucky, New York City, Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina, West Virginia, Utah, Wisconsin and Delaware, according to the CDC.
Arizona’s infection rate is 30,736 cases per 100,000 people, according to the CDC. The national average is 28,166 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: 31,047
Deaths by county: 17,759 in Maricopa; 3,957 in Pima; 1,716 in Pinal; 1,527 in Mohave; 1,260 in Yavapai; 1,196 in Yuma; 932 in Navajo; 621 in Apache; 590 in Cochise; 491 in Coconino; 392 in Gila; 237 in Santa Cruz; 182 in Graham; 148 in La Paz; and 39 in Greenlee.
People age 65 and older make up 22,136 of the 31,047 deaths, or 71%.
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 6,460,159. The U.S. had the highest death count of any country in the world, at 1,041,660, followed by Brazil at 682,874 and India at 527,452, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Arizona’s 31,047 deaths represent about 3% of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S.
Republic reporter Alison Steinbach contributed to this article
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