COVID-19 data trends from the ASU Biodesign Institute show rapid growth in positive test results of the coronavirus and an increase of total cases in Arizona since the end of May.
Both the U.S. and Arizona are seeing an increase in total cases over recent days which "is now starting to accelerate,” Joshua LaBaer, executive director of Biodesign, said in a press briefing Wednesday. On Tuesday Arizona had a positive testing rate of 22% over a seven-day trailing period, according to the Biodesign Critical COVID-19 trends site.
“When you see that trend, that is the foot on the accelerator,” LaBaer said. “That's day over day going faster and faster and faster, and of course the danger for this particular virus is that it spreads with exponential growth.”
On May 24, Arizona had 16,339 cases of COVID-19, according to Biodesign data. Wednesday, one month later, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported a total of 59,974 total cases along with a total of 1,463 deaths.
Wednesday saw a break in the continued increase of reported COVID-19 cases, with 1,795 new cases. However, a new record was broken Wednesday, with 79 deaths reported by ADHS. For every 100,000 people, Arizona has 802 cases of the coronavirus, according to data from the Biodesign Institute.
Some politicians, including President Donald Trump, have claimed that the increase in cases is simply due to the increase of testing. Increased testing does result in more positive cases, but the surge of new cases in states like Arizona is due to a rising percentage of positive tests, LaBaer said.
He added that in a perfect world, states would test more and see less cases, but that is not the current scenario that Arizona or the U.S. is facing.
LaBaer said the state needs to do more testing and that too few asymptomatic cases are being found, which needs to change, and testing results need to be returned quickly to those tested.
The Biodesign Institute recently developed a new COVID-19 testing method using saliva which enables a faster, safer and cheaper way to expand testing in Arizona.
While Gov. Doug Ducey said the state has been working with the University, Joseph Caspermeyer, an ASU spokesperson said in an email, that the University has expanded saliva testing “primarily through its partnerships with city and county municipalities, business and non-profits, hospital organizations, community organizations and schools.”
“The whole point of testing is to be able to find people who have the virus who may be spreading it and get them separated so they can’t spread it,” LaBaer said. “So one concern that I have is that some of the testing results we have are taking a week and longer to get back to the person and, of course, if the test result takes a week to get back to the individual. At that point the horse is kind of out of the barn, that person might have already been spreading the virus.”
The Biodesign modeling estimates that the state has seen a 40% increase in community transmission. To decrease that trend, the public should adhere to social distancing, wear face coverings and follow other public health guidelines, LaBaer said.
The model predicts that unless current trends change in Arizona, “COVID case counts, hospitalizations and ICU bed use will continue to increase” and that “the state should continue to anticipate and prepare for the increased burden on its health care systems.” Because, if the model is correct, the state will “have exhausted its available bed supply by late June/early July.”
According to data from ADHS, 88% of intensive care units and 86% of inpatient beds are in use. Not all of those patients hospitilized have the coronavirus, but models from ASU suggest that at the current rate of transmission hospitals are likely to hit capacity if changes are not made to prevent the spread.
Every nine days the coronavirus cases double; if that continues, it will not take long for any of the available beds in the state to fill up, LaBaer said.
“The rate of admissions is exceeding the rate of discharge, so patients in many cases are staying in the hospital for long periods of time, a week, two weeks, even longer, and yet there are new cases coming in and so that's going to start also impacting the availability of beds,” LaBaer said.
Wyatt Myskow is the project manager at The State Press, where he oversees enterprise stories for the publication. He also works at The Arizona Republic, where he covers the cities of Peoria and Surprise.