Banner Health hospitals, ICUs are filling up in Phoenix area

This Dec. 2020, photo, provided by Banner Health shows a refrigerator truck trailer in use at Banner - University Medical Center Phoenix, one of the Phoenix-based hospital chain's hospitals to augment its morgue. Arizonans need to "shrink their circles" of personal contacts and gatherings to help the state's health care system from being overrun by the state's current surge of COVID-19 cases, a senior official of the major hospital chain says. State and local governments also need to do more to reduce the coronavirus's spread, the effect of which has forced one of Banner Health's hospitals to start using a refrigerated truck trailer to augment its now-full morgue, said Dr. Marjorie Bessel, the Phoenix-based hospital chain's chief clinical officer. (Banner Health via AP)

PHOENIX -- Arizona on Tuesday reported 2,799 additional known COVID-19 cases and a near-record 171 deaths, of which 148 were a result of a series of periodic reviews of past death certificates.

Arizona's totals since the pandemic began rose to 507,222 cases and 8,640 deaths.

Pinal County reported 469 additional cases and seven new deaths. That brings the county totals to 26,857 positive cases and 353 deaths.

The first phase of groups prioritized for vaccinations include front-line health care providers, emergency medical service workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. Vaccinations of those groups is underway.

Along with people 75 and older, groups to be prioritized in the second phase include teachers, child care providers, law enforcement personnel and corrections workers.

The state anticipates that second-phase vaccinations will begin statewide by late January but some counties may begin earlier, the statement said.

The prioritization of people 75 and older elevated that group out of larger group of adults ages 65 and older. The younger people in the larger group remain in following vaccination phases along with multiple categories of essential workers and people with underlying medical conditions.

Prioritizing people 75 and older was a “meaningful” decision based on evidence, said Will Humble, Arizona Public Health Association director and a former state health services director.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

The 171 additional deaths reported Tuesday included 148 from death certificate reviews and were one short of the state's record of 172 deaths reported July 30. The deaths reported July 30 also included many from death certificate reviews.

The state's seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 deaths has increased over the past two weeks from 58.3 on Dec. 14 to 71 on on Monday while the rolling average of daily new cases dropped from 7,772 to 6,154, according to data from Johns Hopkins University and The COVID Tracking Project.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher than reported because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

The state's coronavirus dashboard reported that 4,475 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Monday, the latest in a strong of pandemic-records reported since early December. COVID-19 hospitalizations during the summer surge peaked at 3,517 on July 30.

COVID-19 patients occupied 53% of all inpatient beds and 59% of intensive care beds.

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