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Coronavirus Outbreak Continues To Accelerate In Arizona, Positivity Rate Nears 25%

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To Arizona now, where the state is reporting some of the worst coronavirus numbers in the country. Hospitals are filling up. The Republican governor, Doug Ducey, is asking for help. NPR's Will Stone has the latest.

WILL STONE, BYLINE: Arizona's outbreak continues to accelerate, says Dr. Joe Gerald, who does modeling on the coronavirus at the University of Arizona.

JOE GERALD: Conditions are deteriorating, and they're going to continue to deteriorate. We double the number of cases about every two weeks. And so you don't have to play that out very long to realize we're soon going to be in considerable trouble.

STONE: Yesterday, Arizona hit a new record - more than 4,800 positive cases in a single day. Especially telling is the number of tests coming back positive. It's now hovering around 24%. That's much higher than even Florida and Texas, where cases are also rising rapidly.

GERALD: There's a huge reservoir of individuals who are infected and have the ability to transmit that infection to others. And neither we as public health professionals know about it, and in many circumstances, neither do the patients themselves.

STONE: Gerald says one difference between the outbreak in Arizona and what happened in the Northeast is that cases are skewing much younger, with many people in their 20s and 30s getting infected. This age group is less likely to get seriously ill and be hospitalized. But these concerns led Arizona Governor Doug Ducey to close down bars and gyms this week.

Dr. Ross Goldberg is president of the Arizona Medical Association.

ROSS GOLDBERG: There is a significant concern regarding resource availability, staff availability, just everything being overrun at some point.

STONE: This week, the state told hospitals to activate their crisis standards of care plan, a guide for how hospitals can triage care and scarce resources during a surge of patients. ICU beds are currently at about 90% of capacity. Ann-Marie Alameddin heads the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association. She says the single biggest limiting factor for hospitals right now is staffing.

ANN-MARIE ALAMEDDIN: We have the space. We have the plans to surge. We have supplies. But our health care workers are strained. We need to call in reinforcements.

STONE: And the governor did that this week, asking the federal government for 500 frontline health care workers to support the hospital system. Vice President Mike Pence, visiting Arizona yesterday, said the state will get the help it's requesting. Both Pence and Governor Ducey wore masks during the visit, something both have been reluctant to do previously.

Will Stone, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOS CREMA PARAISO'S, "TO ZING WITH YOUR GIRLFRIEND (PARADISE CREAM)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.