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Experts 'cautiously optimistic' as COVID-19 conditions improve in Arizona

Arizona’s COVID-19 outbreak continues to show signs of dramatic improvement. The  latest numbers from Arizona’s health department show the state has been averaging about 650 COVID-19 cases per day recently — the lowest average since last July. And statewide, COVID ICU bed occupancy is nearing the lowest level since the pandemic began.

Dr. Michael White, chief clinical officer with Valleywise Health, told reporters Wednesday his hospital is down to just one COVID-19 patient in the ICU.

“We’ve been actually able to decommission one of our COVID-19 disease positive units," White said. "We're moving into a positive direction." 

But the more contagious omicron BA.2 sub-variant of COVID-19 is gaining dominance in Arizona.  Sequencing from the lab TGen shows more than half of COVID-19 cases in Arizona last week were caused by BA.2. A month ago, less than 3% of the cases the lab sequenced were caused by BA.2.

That sub-variant of COVID-19 has been  driving new surges in several parts of the world. But Dr. Joe Gerald with the University of Arizona's Zuckerman College of Public Health said he is cautiously optimistic the same might not happen here, in part because Arizona saw such a large winter surge.

“A lot of people got COVID in Arizona during that time period, and that does covey some degree of immunity against reinfection," Gerald said. 

Medical experts still say the best way to protect against potential future waves of the virus is by getting vaccinated and staying up-to-date on boosters.

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