As the spread of COVID-19 in Cochise County moves into “substantial” status per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hospitals around the county are seeing an increase in COVID-19 patients.
The CDC defines an area with “substantial transmission” as one having a positivity rate between 8% and 9.99%. Cochise County is currently at 9% positivity, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services’ website.
The most recent daily case number in Cochise County on the site is seven from Aug. 3 and 22 cases on Aug. 2.
The highest daily case number in May was 9; in June it was 12, and in July it was 17, showing a steady increase.
The numbers are far lower than last winter, when hundreds of daily cases were being reported in Cochise County. However, daily COVID-19 hospitalizations for the state reached 1,266 on Thursday, the first time they have been in that range since February.
There are five COVID-19 patients in the Canyon Vista Medical Center in Sierra Vista according to public information officer Alexis Ramanjulu, who corresponded with the Herald via email.
Ramanjulu said five patients is 8% of the total patients in the hospital.
At the height of spread in Cochise County, Ramanjulu said more than 30 percent of Canyon Vista’s patients were COVID-19 patients.
In the past couple of months, Ramanjulu said that number was far lower, though she did not have firm numbers for the time period. Canyon Vista staff are preparing for more COVID-19 patients, she said.
Copper Queen Community Hospital’s Vice Chief of the Medical Staff Peggy Avina, MD; Manager of the Inpatient Unit Dawn Goad, RN; and Chief Executive Officer Robert Seamon responded to the Herald’s COVID-19 questions in an email.
The group said there has been an increase in COVID-19 patients over the past few weeks, though they currently do not have any in the hospital.
At Northern Cochise Community Hospital in Willcox, CEO Mo Sheldon said there were six COVID-19 patients a couple of weeks ago. Now the hospital only has one, but Sheldon said that even though the number goes up and down day to day, there is an overall increase.
According to Yale Medicine, the delta variant is 50% more contagious than the alpha variant, which is 50% more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19. The World Health Organization considers the alpha, beta, gamma and delta viruses variants of concern.
Precautions that were in force in Arizona in 2020 have changed.
“Because there aren’t any of those other protective measures in place, and because the virus is so much more contagious now than it was, the likelihood of a lot of people getting sick is higher,” Sheldon said.
Cochise County issued a news release on Thursday documenting the move to “substantial” status and recommending that residents get vaccinated.
The county recommends for “fully vaccinated people who have come into close contact with someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 to be tested 3-5 days after exposure, and to wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result.”
The county reported 42 “breakthrough” cases of vaccinated people getting COVID-19.
However, the Copper Queen group said even if a vaccinated person contracts the virus, “the severity of the illness is significantly less.”
Ramanjulu, the Copper Queen group and Sheldon all confirmed that there have been no vaccinated COVID-19 patients in their hospitals.
The county pushed for residents to continue washing and sanitizing hands, social distancing and wearing masks when indoors.
As cases climb, Sheldon and the Copper Queen group said hospital staff are becoming more anxious about another surge in cases. At Canyon Vista, Ramanjulu said it is too early to tell the staff’s mood.
“Watching patients suffer at this level is very, very hard on their caregivers,” Sheldon said. “There’s that anxiety that you get when … you think you know it’s going to happen again.”
The increase in cases on Cochise County’s COVID-19 website mirrors the beginning of the previous two surges.
At Copper Queen, the group said staff are “frankly numb with exhaustion — both physically, mentally, and spiritually.”
“One person infected with the delta variant can spread the virus to many more people than the previous variant,” the group said. “We are definitely worried about the potential for significant loss of life, particularly in the younger populations.”