Health expert fears COVID trend in state The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Health expert fears COVID trend in state

Health expert fears COVID trend in state
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By Allison Engstrom
Cronkite News

A prominent health expert expressed worry last week about rising COVID-19 numbers across Arizona, saying the trend is reminiscent of early summer conditions that preceded a spike in cases and rollback of measures to reopen businesses.

“This is a moment to sort of stop and take measure and think hard about: What can we do to prevent this?” said Joshua LaBaer, executive director of Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute.

The institute tracks case trends across Arizona’s 15 counties as well as the nation.

LaBaer said 902 new cases were reported Wednesday morning by the Arizona Department of Health Services, and “we haven’t seen that in a while.” One week ago, that daily number of new cases was 786.

On Thursday, the state health department reported 1,102 new COVID-19 cases. Arizona has recorded a total 228,748 cases as of last Thursday and 5,789 deaths.

Cases are rising in Maricopa, Yuma, Navajo and Coconino counties, among others, he said.

COVID-19 metrics in Mesa’s ZIP codes vary widely in terms of cases per 100,000. All ZIP codes show a moderate level of virus spread with fewer than 100 cases per 100,000 people.

All ZIP codes are in the minimum spread category for the percentage of COVID-19 symptoms in hospital visits. But while most Mesa ZIP codes showed positive new test results in the minimal range, 85206 and 85204 were in the moderate category.

“In terms of numbers of new cases, we are on a path headed toward exponential growth,” LaBaer said. “The tricky thing about exponential growth is that it doesn’t look like it’s growing very fast at first. The numbers day over day don’t look like they’re big changes. But then all of a sudden, it really can take off.”

On May 29, the state reported 909 new cases. One month later, on June 29, the daily number peaked at 5,461.

When cases first began popping up across Arizona in March, Gov. Doug Ducey and county and municipal leaders implemented policies to help prevent spread.

The closure of nonessential businesses, along with mask mandates, were credited with slowing the disease in the community.

But as cases started to decline, restrictions eased, too.

For example, schools across the state have been reopening, and in Maricopa County alone, 21 have reported COVID-19 outbreaks since August, according to county statistics.

MPS’ relatively new dashboard showing reported COVID-19 cases in its schools on Thursday showed a total 49 cases reported to the district. They involved 34 students and 15 adults, though five adult cases involved district office personnel.

Among individual schools, Mesa High had the highest single total with 14, though the district does not differentiate at the school level between students and staff.

As of Oct. 1, no county in the state remained in the “substantial” transmission category, meaning restaurants, movie theaters, gyms and other businesses could begin reopening.

But there must be a balance between public policy and personal responsibility, LaBaer said, urging anyone in a public-facing job or who interacts with new people to get tested on a regular basis.

“We’re still not testing enough,” he said. “People are just not showing up.”

LaBaer noted that things might only get worse with Halloween, followed by Thanksgiving and the December holidays.

He advises parents to proceed with caution if they plan to allow their children to trick or treat. He recommends wearing masks that cover nose and mouth, avoiding big groups of people and wiping off candy wrappers before the kiddos dig in.

Traditional trick-or-treating and indoor parties have been designated as high-risk activities by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

LaBaer said upcoming holiday parties should be kept small and restricted to immediate family, noting larger gatherings have been COVID-19 “super-spreaders.”

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