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COVID-19 hospital data shows some hope in Arizona following record surge

PHOENIX - The coronavirus has been surging in Arizona for weeks, and hospitals have been overwhelmed as they work to care for those sickest with COVID-19.

Now, state data is showing a little bit of hope.

COVID-19 patients in the ICU and hospital hitting 'plateau'
Data from the Arizona Department of Health Services shows the number of COVID-19 patients in the ICU and those with the virus in the total hospital census is slowly inching down.

The data showed all-time highs were reached in both categories on Jan. 11, with 5,082 people with COVID-19 in Arizona hospitals, and 1,183 of them in the state's intensive care units.

The latest numbers released from AZDHS shows 4,663 people are in the hospital being treated for the virus and 1,150 of them are in the ICU.

Dr. Stephanie Jackson, Chief Clinical Officer at HonorHealth, calls the change a plateau in the data.

"I think we are in a race against this virus to see how many vaccinations we can roll out before the virus spreads further," Jackson said. "But I am hopeful at this recent, seems like a leveling off, in the number of cases."

Jody Johnson, a nurse and clinical director of a Valley hospital's medical-surgical unit, says she's noticed a shift too.

"There was a time when we were getting more and more patients every single day. And that seems to have slowed down," Johnson said.

However, she said while the data has changed, things are the same day in and day out for her and her team.

"While the hope is out there, we are not there yet," Johnson said. "It's still something that hasn't tangibly changed anything."

Winter coronavirus surge causes overwhelmed hospitals, exhausted frontline workers
Johnson and the team she leads has been fighting the pandemic for 10 months and said the latest surge is the worst she's seen.

"We are seeing volumes of patients that are unheard of, we're seeing acuity, which is how sick they are, patients are sicker than we've ever seen before. And those patients that would typically have been in an ICU setting are now on the medical-surgical, telemetry floors," Johnson said.

Johnson said the wave is taking a bigger toll on frontline workers.

"I now know what happens with these patients. And I kind of lost my hope. And I'm exhausted, and I'm being asked to work as much as possible. And yet the outcomes aren't there," Johnson said.

"So I don't get those wonderful stories at the end of the day where I can say, 'I saved the life'. It's more like, 'I was there when my patient passed away, and I held their hand.' So you are there for the patient, you are making a difference. But it's a different kind of a difference. And that's hard for people."

The toll Johnson says comes not only physically, but emotionally and mentally too, as every patient, they're seeing are some of those sickest with the coronavirus.

"It's so much because every single one of those patients that you go in their room, is suffering," Johnson said.

"Not being able to breathe, is awful. And not being able to help someone as a nurse, when we've exhausted all potential options, that's really hard too."

As surge plateaus, vaccine rollout, mitigation measures key to avoiding another surge. While the slow plateau of hospital patient COVID-19 data is hopeful, both Jackson and Johnson are cautious about the future.

"I'm breathing a bit of a sigh of relief, although I think it's way too early to make any changes at this point in time," Jackson said.

As for what could be behind the dip right now, Jackson believes it's people taking steps like staying home when possible, avoiding indoor dining, wearing face coverings, washing their hands, and getting the vaccine when it's available to them.

Jackson warns the data can start to go back up quickly if those mitigation steps aren't taken.

"I wouldn't be surprised if we saw another wave in the, you know, March, April time-frame. But, if we can, we can get everyone to follow the guidelines, get their vaccinations, then we should be in a much better position to deal with any, any future surges," Jackson said.

Authored by Colleen Sikora, 12 News

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