After pre-Thanksgiving testing surge, ASU's active COVID-19 cases decrease

ASU's Biodesign Institute predicts the state will exceed hospital bed capacity in early December as millions across the nation travel for the holidays

As students and staff prepared to travel for Thanksgiving and the upcoming holidays, some ASU employees saw long lines for COVID-19 tests and longer wait times for test results, yet active cases within its community declined, according to a University update published Thursday.

Active cases have decreased by 32 since Monday's update, with 376 total cases among the ASU community. Active cases among students have decreased by 36 to a total of 285 cases, and active employee cases have increased by four to 91.

In the week leading up to the holiday, Biodesign Institute spokesperson Joseph Caspermeyer said in an email "there has certainly been an increase in demand (for testing) to coincide with the rise in positive cases." On Tuesday, employees at COVID-19 testing sites on the Downtown Phoenix and Tempe campuses said lines had been longer than usual. 

ASU has collected 143,494 tests since Aug. 1, with 7,317 tests taken between Monday and Thursday this week. Between Monday and Thursday University updates last week, ASU collected 4,572 tests.  

Greg Dawson, a professor in the School of Accountancy, said his test results from ASU took nearly 72 hours to return, longer than the roughly 48 hours it usually takes to get results.

He assumed the results took longer to come back due to the influx of people wanting to get tested before traveling. He said many parents didn't want their child to come home and "bring the virus and expose their mom and dad, and grandma and grandpa," which he said is "a very reasonable thing."

In an effort to encourage testing before Thanksgiving, ASU announced various pop-up testing sites around the state in partnership with the Arizona Department of Health Services for free, saliva-based tests. 

ADHS and ASU will continue offering free public testing around the state — from Flagstaff to Tucson — and has sign-up times and dates available until Dec. 13. 

Despite health experts advising people to not travel to decrease the risk of contracting COVID-19, the Transportation Security Administration recorded over 7.5 million passengers passing through checkpoints in the U.S. over the week leading up to Thanksgiving, an overlying trend that could compound a worrying shift in Arizona.

Biodesign Institute executive director Joshua LaBaer raised concerns over COVID-19 patients occupying an increasing percentage of hospital beds in the state at a press briefing Wednesday, a trend he noted was beginning before the Thanksgiving holiday.

As of Wednesday, COVID-19 patients occupy 26% of all hospital beds in Arizona, according to Biodesign Institute's COVID-19 trends page. COVID-19 patients make up nearly 30% of people who currently occupy hospital beds.

The trend is also seen in intensive care unit bed availability. COVID-19 patients occupy just under 30% of all intensive care unit beds in the state as of Wednesday. COVID-19 patients make up 33% of people who currently occupy an intensive care unit bed.

"We're going to start to see a reduced availability for beds for people who have things other than COVID, and that's going to impact overall medical care in the state," LaBaer said. 

According to updated predictive modeling from Biodesign Institute, the state is projected to exceed hospital and intensive care unit bed capacity by early December, a change from an earlier projection of mid-December at the earliest. 

ASU has reported 3,153 cumulative cases since Aug. 1, according to the update. Since Monday's update, cumulative cases have increased by 107 among students and by 23 among employees.

The ASU community's percent positivity rate is roughly 2.2%, using the cumulative number of positive results as the numerator and the total number of tests collected as the denominator. The percent positivity rate represents the level of transmission of the virus and shows if testing is effective. 

ADHS reported 3,474 new positive COVID-19 cases and 44 deaths Thursday.


Reach the reporters at eborst@asu.edu and jhorst2@asu.edu and follow @ellieeborstt and @HorseySeven on Twitter.

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