Gov. Doug Ducey again is encouraging Arizona residents to get vaccinated as COVID-19 appears to be surging again in the state.
“Please get the vaccine,” Ducey, a Republican, said Friday in a written statement posted to his website. “Medical professionals in Arizona and across the country all agree that getting vaccinated is safe, it will protect you and it is the right choice.”
As of Friday, nearly 45% of Arizonans were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationally the rate is nearly 49%. Vaccine uptake in Arizona has slowed tremendously in recent weeks compared with the height of vaccination in the spring.
About 52% of Arizona residents have received at least one dose of vaccine, compared with the national rate of 56.5%, the CDC says.
The highly transmissible delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, or new coronavirus, that causes COVID-19 appears to be fueling an uptick in both COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Arizona. Dr. Joshua LaBaer, who is the executive director of Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, said Wednesday that he believes Arizona is in another surge of COVID-19.
A COVID-19 variant dashboard maintained by the Arizona-based Translational Genomics Research Institute shows a significant increase in the delta variant from about 3% of sequenced positive tests in May to about 73% of sequenced positive tests in July.
“We are seeing in the last several months that the main driver for the increase in COVID-19 cases is largely individuals who are not fully vaccinated,” Dr. Cara Christ, the Arizona Department of Health Services director, told reporters during a virtual press briefing Friday. “Given what we’re seeing with the delta variant, I would expect us to continue to see increases in cases for a while.”
Ducey has faced recent criticism for policies that ban public universities from mandating the vaccine and ban school districts from requiring masks. He reiterated his commitment to avoiding mask and vaccine mandates for students and businesses in his statement.
“There will be no mask mandates. We have a proven solution with the vaccine,” he wrote.
He added that his office “will not be listening to the lockdown lobby.”
Ducey did not announce any new initiatives, efforts or incentives to boost vaccine uptake in Arizona. But he did strongly advocate the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Today, thanks to the miracle of modern science, we have something we didn’t have last year: a vaccine,” he wrote, and then cited several facts about the vaccine, including a fact from the CDC that 97% of people hospitalized for COVID-19 infections are unvaccinated.
In Arizona, 89% of cases to date in July have involved people not fully vaccinated, per the state health department. Of COVID-19 hospitalizations since March, 94% have been in those not fully vaccinated, and 98% of deaths since March have been in those not fully vaccinated.
In a tweet Friday morning, Ducey wrote that while the state of Arizona will not mandate the COVID-19 vaccine, “we encourage everyone to get it. It is the surest way of keeping you and your loved ones safe. I got my shot once I was eligible, and I’m glad I did.”
Arizona previously had two major surges of COVID-19 — in June and July of 2020, and then in November, December and January. LaBaer said that while Arizona is in another surge, there will most likely be fewer hospitalizations and deaths than the previous waves because of the COVID-19 vaccine. State data shows people in older age groups, who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 illness and death, are pretty well vaccinated.
State data shows COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been climbing in Arizona and are at levels last seen in early March.
Friday’s report of 1,479 new COVID-19 cases is the highest daily addition of new cases since March 11 (with the exception of one higher day this month due to a reporting issue).
There were 910 patients hospitalized across Arizona for known or suspected COVID-19 as of Thursday, the most since early March. Two weeks earlier, 535 people were hospitalized. ICU beds have also seen an increase in patients.
The state’s seven-day average for new reported COVID-19 cases was at 1,145 on Friday, compared with 565 two weeks earlier. The seven-day case average has been around the highest it’s been since mid-March. The average had reached as high as 9,800 in January, according to state data.
Dr. Cara Christ says unvaccinated Arizonans should wear masks in public
People who have not been vaccinated should be wearing masks when they are out in public, and high-risk individuals who have been vaccinated should consider wearing one too, Christ said.
Christ said two of her children who are under the age of 12 and not yet eligible to get vaccinated are wearing masks when they go to school.
“As of this week, nearly 32% of 12- to 17-year-olds have been vaccinated with at least one dose of vaccine, and as we head back to school, we urge all of those who are eligible, including students 12 and older, to get vaccinated,” Christ said.
Reports of breakthrough cases should not discourage people who are ages 12 and older from getting vaccinated, Christ said. People who have been vaccinated and get so-called “breakthrough” COVID-19 infections tend to have less severe illness, she said.
“No vaccine is 100%, but the vaccine has a really high efficacy in preventing hospitalizations and deaths,” she said. “The efficacy of the vaccine in preventing hospitalization and death is one of the main reasons you should get vaccinated.”
Christ said she doesn’t want to put blame on unvaccinated people for the current spike.
“I don’t place blame. I think that there’s a lot of hesitancy out there; I think that there’s a lot of misinformation that scares people about getting the shot,” she said.
“I hate to see the numbers increasing when there is a tool out there that would prevent people from having to get sick and having to suffer through this, and that’s something that we’re going to continue to work on,” Christ said. “I don’t know that it’s blame, because really it’s hurting the individuals that get COVID-19 and I just want everyone to avoid getting it.”
Christ said the state’s main message is that there’s a “highly effective vaccine” that prevents hospitalizations and deaths, and state health officials are encouraging all eligible Arizonans to be fully vaccinated, meaning two weeks out from their final shot.
“The key is fully vaccinated, because we know one dose when you’re dealing with the delta variant does not provide as great protection as two doses do,” she said. “So we would recommend as many people as possible, get vaccinated because that’s the best prevention tool we have.”
Reach the reporter at Alison.Steinbach@arizonarepublic.com or at 602-444-4282. Follow her on Twitter @alisteinbach.
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