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COVID-19 cases fall steeply nationwide but plateau in Arizona

Arizona reported more than 5,000 new COVID-19 infections Tuesday. State health officials said the high number was a result of a reporting system update over the weekend. But on average, Arizona is still reporting more new cases per capita than much of the country is.

From early September to mid-October, the average number of daily cases in the U.S. was cut in half, from more than 161,000 per day to about 80,000 per day. In the same timeframe, cases in Arizona declined less than 30%, from about 3,100 per day to about 2,200 per day. Arizona is now reporting about 184 cases per 100,000 residents per week, compared to 143 per 100,000 nationally, according to the  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“Overall, nationally, you’ve really seen it start to come down again where the spread was high," Marcy Flanagan, executive director of Maricopa County Public Health,  told the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors this week. "Whereas, looking at us, we’re more leveled off and we didn’t have that decline that you’re seeing nationally. That is unique to Arizona." 

Flanagan attributes Arizona’s higher caseloads to the state’s below-average vaccination rate. She said limited use of masks in schools and businesses also contributes to the trends.

Flanagan pointed out in Arizona's previous two waves of the virus, cases declined much more quickly than they are falling now. 

"There were really strict mitigation strategies that were put on either statewide or county-wide that had those declines happen rapidly. But this time it's come down slightly, but it really is just leveling off at a high level of spread," Flanagan said.

In addition to high caseloads per capita, other metrics also indicate Arizona's outbreak is more severe than other states'. The CDC reports 10% to 14% of recent COVID-19 tests reported in Arizona have been positive, compared to a nationwide positivity rate of about 6%. 

"We still are in high transmission here in Maricopa County," Flanagan said. "We never thought we would be here this long, still in the middle of a pandemic, but we are. I know a lot of times you can go into certain places and it doesn't feel like there's a pandemic anymore, but unfortunately, in public health we are still dealing with it every day."

Get The Latest News On COVID-19 In Arizona

Arizona Coronavirus Cases, Deaths

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