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Masks requested amid COVID-19, rising respiratory illnesses in Pima County

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Community transmission of COVID-19 has reached high levels in Pima County, as hospitals here already grapple with rising rates of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus.

COVID-19 cases were about 167 to 170 cases per 100,000 population in the county earlier this week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Increased testing and a rise in hospitalizations, however, now show about 233 cases per 100,000 people, with just over 5% of county beds now occupied by COVID patients.

Community transmission is considered high once cases exceed 200 per 100,000 people.

The positivity rate is also high, at around 27%. Ideally, public health officials want to see positivity rates below 10%, with 5% and below being considered ideal.

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People are once again strongly urged to mask up in indoor public spaces, said county health director Dr. Theresa Cullen, “to help protect themselves, others and our hospital capacity.”

Cullen said while she doesn’t expect everyone to get back on board with masking, she’s found that Pima County residents tend to respond well to public health recommendations. There are no plans for mask warrant applications at this time, she said.

“The Pima County Health Department continues to monitor respiratory infection rates in the county as well as the state,” Cullen said. “As expected, we are starting to see an increase in COVID infections and hospitalizations.”

Rise in respiratory infections

This increase in COVID cases coincides with recent and significant increases in other respiratory infections, including influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, Cullen said.

The RSV transmits about 10 to 11 times the number typically seen at this time of year here, compared to a five-year average. Flu cases are about five times higher than the five-year average and also peak earlier than usual, Cullen said.

Over the next six to eight weeks in particular, Cullen told a news conference last week, people should do what they can to protect themselves and others, especially babies and young children. , the elderly and people with weakened immune systems and chronic health. conditions.

Typically, babies under six months old are the most common RSV patients seen in hospitals, but admissions this year include many toddlers and preschoolers, up to age four-year-olds, as well as some elderly patients.

Pediatric RSV cases are overwhelming hospitals here and, especially, in Maricopa County, said Dr. Matt Heinz, county supervisor for District 2 and local hospital physician.

Heinz said wait times have increased significantly over the past two weeks at hospitals here and around Arizona.

“Staff reports that no pediatric beds are available at several facilities across the state,” Heinz said of his conversations with other physicians. Wait times are increasing in emergency rooms, he said, “and critical patients are being forced to wait in emergency departments for hours until beds become available.”

A “return” for COVID-19 services

Phoenix-area emergency physician Dr. Nicholas Vasquez told The Associated Press late last week that his hospital had recently admitted increasing numbers of chronically ill people and nursing home residents. nurses with severe COVID-19. COVID services are “making a definite comeback,” he said.

People are also urged to wash their hands often, ventilate indoor spaces whenever possible if groups gather, get flu and COVID-19 vaccinations, and stay home when sick.

There is no vaccine available against RSV yet.

Pima County’s vaccination rate for COVID boosters is about 18%, Cullen said, which is one of the highest rates in the state.

However, Cullen said, more older people need reinforcements to protect themselves as best they can.

Vaccines and boosters are available at many local pharmacies as well as county health centers.

Some travelers focus on virus precautions as Thanksgiving travel season gets underway

Contact journalist Patty Machelor at 520-235-0308 or pmachelor@tucson.com.

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