WILLIAMS, Ariz. — The state of Arizona saw a surge in coronavirus cases at the end of June, and Coconino County followed the trend with a high of 324 cases the week of June 27, however, since then, the county has begun to see signs of leveling with 166 positive cases last week.
“Although that gives us all some hope, we believe we aren’t even close to the end of our COVID marathon in Arizona,” said Northern Arizona Heath Care President and CEO Flo Spyrow.
Spyrow and other health care leaders for NAHC, Flagstaff Medical Center and Verde Valley Medical Center said northern Arizona medical centers have a better handle on coronavirus cases than they did in April and May, but are seeing higher numbers of local patients with the virus.
“In the hospital, we are seeing more people that are local, but the majority of COVID-positive patients are coming from the reservation (Navajo Nation),” said FMC Chief Medical Officer Derek Feuquay. “We are seeing more locals than we saw at the beginning when they were almost exclusively from northwest Arizona.”
Although numbers are still high, the medical providers were encouraged with the increasingly better outcomes for COVID-positive patients.
“In the next 4-6 weeks, I think we will see significant COVID cases in both counties (Coconino and Yavapai) but the bright side is that the rate of death and the ability to treat these patients effectively and the outcomes overall have improved tremendously,” said NAHC Chief Quality Officer John Mougin. “I think that’s the bright spot here.”
In April and May, when physicians at FMC first encountered COVID-positive patients, most people were presenting with severe symptoms prior to being admitted into the hospital, Mougin said.
“We have improved our arsenal for treatment, our approach to not intubating patients as soon,” he said. “The medications we have to offer and things we’ve learned out of studies from China, Europe and within the U.S. (have also helped). We are getting better at treating this thing and that’s leading to better outcomes.
Despite better patient outcomes, the NAHC providers believe that coronavirus will be around for a long time.
“For the foreseeable future and possibly forever,” said Feuquay. “Obviously we believe at some point we will have a vaccine or cure for this, but (like) H1N1 and other viruses that you see, I don’t think we are ever not going to be treating it.”
As of July 15, Flagstaff Medical Center had 206 of 270 beds in use, with 32 patients in the ICU. Of those ICU patients, 11 were on ventilators. The hospital had 19 COVID-positive patients, 38 negative and 24 rule-out.
“We are sitting ok for today, but are monitoring day by day,” said FMC Chief Administrative Officer Josh Tinkle.
Verde Valley Medical Center has 11 positive patients, seven negatives and 11 rule-outs. They have five patients in the ICU and one on a ventilator, according to Verde Valley Medical Center Chief Administrative Officer Ron Haase.
Mougin said he believes the best data to analyze for disease activity is positive test percentage rates. But for impact on the community, ICU and death rates are important to consider.
“Regardless of how many tests you are doing or not enough testing, test percentage rate does show what the community spread is,” he said.
Spyrow said she is concerned with the lack of data available from nursing homes and rehabilitation centers in regard to COVID-positive patients. She said knowing what is happening at these facilities helps with decision making.
“We’re big proponents of transparency,” she said. “We post the numbers of COVID patients we have in-house and the number of rule-outs on a regular basis because people should know.”
Spyrow said she is also concerned with the impact of schools reopening during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Children, in elementary up to high school, are not the most at risk to get ill and enter the hospital,” she said. “However, schools opening gives them the opportunity to share that virus and infect parents and grandparents and others throughout the community.”