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Arizona stops reporting hospital COVID-19 data, but says it will resume soon

As of last week, health department data showed there were  fewer COVID-19 patients in Arizona’s inpatient beds and ICU beds than at any point in two years, but this week those numbers weren’t updated. The state health department is making some changes to the way it tracks the pandemic.

Medical experts say keeping an eye on hospital capacity is  critical. COVID-19 case numbers can vary depending on how many people get tested and how many people use at-home test kits. Hospitalizations, on the other hand, provide a more consistent measure of how many people are getting seriously ill. Hospital bed usage also signals when health care systems are in danger of becoming overwhelmed. Hospital admissions and hospital bed usage trends are among the most important factors the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is using in its recently updated guidelines for measuring the spread of COVID-19.

Since early in the pandemic, the Arizona Department of Health Services has publicly tracked COVID-19 cases, deaths, and hospitalizations  on its website. But this week, the department announced it was no longer going to report hospital bed capacity data. In a  blog post, interim department director Don Herrington explained that after the governor  lifted Arizona’s state of emergency, hospitals were no longer required to report bed usage.

“Starting with this week’s update, the graphs under Hospital Bed Usage and Availability, Hospital COVID-19 Specific Metrics, and Ventilator Usage and Availability will no longer be updated. With the end of the emergency declaration, a surveillance order through which this information was reported to ADHS is no longer in effect,” Herrington wrote. 

The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, Arizona's Medicaid agency, had created an  incentive program for hospitals to continue tracking capacity data after the end of the emergency order, but a health department spokesperson told KJZZ News that data was being collected in a format that could not be loaded to the dashboard website.  

Later, the department told KJZZ News it planned to reverse course. A spokesperson said some hospital capacity data collected by AHCCCS will be analyzed and made public in the future, though the department has not made any updates to its dashboard yet.

→  Get the latest news on COVID-19 in Arizona

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