While most of the United States has seen a steady decline in new coronavirus cases recently, Arizona has been an outlier.
The state has not been swamped with another virus wave, but public health experts are worried about a steady increase in cases and hospitalizations. As of Monday, Arizona’s daily average had climbed 21 percent in the last two weeks, tying it with Wyoming for the largest rise in the nation over that period. Only three other states reported increases of more than 10 percent in that time: Washington, Oregon and Missouri.
Arizona’s daily new case load, at 10 per 100,000 people, is still below the national average of 15 per 100,000. Over the last 14 days, as federal health officials have suggested that the virus’s trajectory is improving, the country has seen a 26 percent decrease in new coronavirus cases, and 28 states have seen declines of 15 percent or more, according to a New York Times database.
Will Humble, the former state health director who now heads the Arizona Public Health Association, said the increase in new cases could be attributed to several factors, including a spring influx of travelers and the prevalence of a virus variant first detected in Britain. The variant, B.1.1.7., has been associated with increased transmissibility.
Mr. Humble said the rise in Arizona was not likely to yield a substantial rise in deaths, which have been declining in the state. Most older adults and other people in the state who are at elevated risk of severe illness have already been vaccinated, he said, while the new cases are predominantly people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who are more likely to have milder cases.
Mr. Humble said the rise in cases has “totally different public health implications” now than it would have several months ago, when far fewer people were vaccinated.
“We’re not going to experience the type of lethal experiences that we would have in December, January or February,” Mr. Humble said. Even so, he said, there had been “a notable upward movement in general ward beds and also I.C.U.”
Arizona was slow to put restrictions in place and quick to remove them last summer as cases skyrocketed and intensive-care beds filled to near capacity. For more than a month, from early June until mid-July, the state reported new cases at the highest rate in the country, relative to its size, reaching a peak of 3,800 a day.
In January, Arizona again had the highest rate of daily new cases for a time. At one point, it averaged more than 8,000 a day, more than double the summer peak.
Gov. Doug Ducey signed an executive order in March that lifted all Covid-19 restrictions in the state and barred local governments from imposing mask mandates.
Mr. Humble said that policy might have left Arizona more vulnerable.“There’s no mitigation at all here, and there hasn’t been for months,” he said.
About 41 percent of Arizonans have received a first dose of the vaccine, and 30 percent have been fully vaccinated, just below the national average. But the picture varies considerably from one part of the state to another. Three of Arizona’s 15 counties have vaccinated more than 40 percent of residents, but six have vaccinated fewer than 30 percent, as of Monday.
Dr. Cara Christ, the director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, told reporters last month that the initial rush for vaccines had slowed considerably. “Vaccine appointments used to be snapped up almost as soon as they were made available,” she said. “Now it’s to a point where it’s possible to get a same-day appointment at virtually any state site.”