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Hospital Leaders Urge Caution As Arizona Reports COVID-19 ICU Bed Record

Arizona set more COVID-19 records Wednesday. The state reports there are more Arizonans on ventilators than ever. Hospital intensive care unit beds in the state are at 93% capacity, the highest level since the pandemic began. And 972 ICU beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients, another record high. Arizona hospital leaders are calling for extreme caution as the virus continues to strain the state's health care system.

Dr. Marjorie Bessel, chief clinical officer of Banner Health, on Wednesday told reporters Banner hospitals are seeing about 160% of the patients they might see during a typical winter peak. She said some Banner hospitals are already operating above capacity.

Bessel said she wants to see more policy actions to control the spread of the virus in Arizona, but pointed out only the governor and state health department can do that.

“The question as to why the governor has not granted mayors the authority to make mitigation decisions that can be most impactful in curbing the trend has yet to be scientifically answered," Bessel said. 

The governor has not implemented any new mitigation measures, even as the state surpasses summer peak levels of the virus. The state in August established benchmarks for business closures. The virus has spread beyond the highest benchmark across Arizona, but the Department of Health Services recently  altered its own rules to eliminate most closure requirements. 

As the virus accelerates, Dr. Michael White, chief clinical officer of Valleywise Health, is encouraging Arizonans to limit holiday celebrations to only immediate family.

“We see such community spread now that even expanding that circle a little bit is increasing risk," White told reporters Wednesday. 

White said hospitals are already strained and spread of the virus is likely to increase even more after Christmas.

Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.