After more than two years, Arizona is finally out from under the COVID-19 Declaration of Emergency ordered by Gov. Doug Ducey on March 11, 2020.
“Today I am terminating the state’s COVID-19 State of Emergency. Thanks to the hard work of many — health care workers, businesses, public and private sector employees — COVID-19 is no longer an emergency in Arizona,” Ducey said Wednesday of his action which takes effect immediately.
The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) reports that suspected COVID-19 cases now represent less than 1.5 percent of emergency room visits and hospital admissions. Ducey noted that while COVID-19 is not gone, the availability of the vaccine and other measures has allowed Arizonans to be better positioned to manage and mitigate it.
“COVID-19 challenged us in ways we never could’ve imagined. No corner of our state – no corner of our country or the world – was spared,” he said. “But we met that challenge head on by prioritizing lives, livelihoods and individual liberties. The time is right to move forward.”
ADHS’s website shows 29,268 death in Arizona attributed to COVID-19 since the pandemic started in 2020. Less than 400 COVID deaths were reported across the state in the last week.
Dr. Richard Carmona, who is serving as Ducey’s special advisor for public health preparedness, expressed confidence Wednesday that Arizona is prepared to address an expected future increase in cases due to virus mutations.
“We now have the experience and tools in place to address what may be to come while public health continues doing what we do best: infectious disease surveillance, prevention, and control,” Carmona said.
The termination of the public health state of emergency does not mean the end to various tracking of COVID-19 cases. According to ADHS, information about immunizations, deaths, hospitalizations, and lab results will continue to be gathered.
Ducey’s announcement allows each of the state’s 15 counties to continue any emergency declarations they currently have in place. The same is true for any cities and towns.
In response, the chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors formally ended the county’s own emergency declaration from March 2020. That won’t stop the county from expending millions of dollars of American Rescue Plan Act funds to address the ongoing economic impact COVID-19 has had on Maricopa County residents, businesses, and schools.
Absent from the Arizona Department of Health (ADHS) report last week that unvaccinated individuals were 31.1 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than their vaccinated peers were any comorbidities. ADHS also claimed that the unvaccinated were nearly five times as likely to test positive for COVID-19. ADHS disclosed that they omitted length of time since vaccination and other demographics in addition to underlying conditions.
In similar sample studies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study indicating that comorbidities exacerbated the effects of the virus — even for the vaccinated. In the study released last week, the CDC found that 78 percent of the 36 vaccinated individuals who died had four or more comorbidities. All of the nearly 200 people who experienced a severe outcome from COVID-19 had at least one comorbidity.
“Among 1,228,664 persons who completed primary vaccination during December 2020 [through] October 2021, a total of 2,246 (18.0 per 10,000 vaccinated persons) developed COVID-19 and 189 (1.5 per 10,000) had a severe outcome, including 36 who died (0.3 deaths per 10,000),” read the report.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky stirred controversy by remarking on the study to ABC on their show “Good Morning America.” Walensky cited the fact that the overwhelming majority of deaths from vaccinated individuals that contracted COVID-19 within the study had multiple comorbidities.
“The overwhelming number of deaths, over 75 percent, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities, so really these are people who were unwell to begin with,” said Walensky.
In response to uproar over her comments, ABC updated their interview with Walensky to include an extended version in which she discussed the data within the context of the study.
One major comorbidity shared by nearly two-thirds of the nation is excess weight: approximately 42 percent of adults are obese, with another 30 percent overweight. The CDC warned that obesity increases the likelihood of serious illness from COVID-19.
The ADHS report preceded this week’s major developments on the pandemic that appeared to have turned the tide on the nation’s approach to perceiving and responding to COVID-19.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) struck down President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate requiring employers with 100 or more employees to mandate the vaccine or weekly testing.
Prior to that, major news outlets such as the Associated Press and The Atlanticupdated their internal guidance on COVID-19 coverage to eradicate mention of case numbers. The outlets asserted that the case counts weren’t high enough because they relied on reportable cases by health authorities, not at-home tests or those that don’t get tested because they’re asymptomatic.
The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) latest reporting noted that less than half of those deaths occurred within the last six months: 20. That’s just over zero percent of deaths within the last six months: .3 percent.
For the last six months, 60 percent of COVID deaths occurred in individuals over 65 years old. 19 percent were individuals aged 55 to 64. 12 percent were individuals aged 45 to 54. 9 percent were individuals aged 20 to 44.
In both counts from the last six months and all time, the majority of COVID-19 deaths occurred in men and white, non-Hispanic individuals.
For all time, 71 percent of COVID deaths occurred in individuals over 65. 16 percent were in individuals aged 55 to 64. 8 percent were in individuals aged 45 to 54. 5 percent were in individuals aged 20 to 44.
Again, just over zero percent of deaths were in individuals under 20 years old: .2 percent.
The death rates have remained consistent, despite the recent winter surge prompted by the Omicron variant. The surge mirrored that of last year, though this year’s spike of 14,000 was 3,000 less than the spike that occurred then. According to genetic marker review of the state’s COVID-19 cases, over 87 percent of recent cases were of the Omicron variant.
Even with the number of under-20 COVID-19 deaths, the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) has been pushing for parents to vaccinate their children. Dr. Richard Carmona, appointed by Governor Doug Ducey as a special advisor for the pandemic, suggested to parents that they should vaccinate their children because the vaccine could prevent injury and death, though he admitted COVID-19 doesn’t pose a serious harm.
“The science is sound. The science tells us this is the right thing to do, and we have a long, long history of understanding how vaccines work, and how it’s prevented our children from getting all of these diseases that grievously can cause serious harm and death — and today we don’t see that in our society if our children are vaccinated,” stated Carmona.
Carmona serves as a board of directors member for McKesson, a major distributor of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The former director of the Arizona Department of Health (ADHS), Will Humble, issued a statement on Sunday noting that Arizona’s number of COVID-19 deaths in children was 250 percent above the national average. Humble pulled the statistic from the ADHS Child Fatality Review Program (CFRP) annual report on child fatalities in 2020, released earlier this month. The exact number of children who reportedly died from a COVID-19 infection amounted to twelve. There were 29 indirect COVID-19 deaths, accounting for the majority of listed child COVID-19 deaths.
Those 29 deaths weren’t caused by a COVID-19 infection. Rather, they were caused by circumstances CFRP insisted were set up by the COVID-19 pandemic at large; in other words, the pandemic resulted in a butterfly effect that led to a majority of these children’s deaths. ADHS noted that they were “among the first in the nation” to adopt this rationale for cataloguing COVID-19 deaths. That may explain the disparity between Arizona’s purported number of child COVID-19 deaths versus the national number.
The CFRP report classified those butterfly effect majority deaths, “indirect COVID-19 deaths.” They claimed that children didn’t have to be infected with COVID-19 to have died from it.
“An indirect COVID-19 death is a death where the child or caregiver experienced changes or disruptions in how they lived, worked, or accessed services due to COVID-19,” stated the report. “The CFRP recognizes that COVID-19 likely is indirectly related to other increases of child deaths in particular suicide, firearm injuries and motor vehicle crashes included in this report.”
The ADHS report further admitted that researchers reviewed case files of other child deaths that occurred prior to public knowledge of the pandemic to discern whether those deaths were directly or indirectly related to COVID-19. For suspected direct deaths, researchers relied on medical record classifications such as influenza and pneumonia to determine whether the child died from COVID-19 and not the cause of death assigned originally. For suspected indirect deaths, researchers admitted that they considered the following:
“Indirect COVID-19 deaths may include (but is not limited to): looking at deaths that occurred during school closures when the child may not have died if they were physically in school, deaths where the fear of contracting COVID-19 impacted seeking medical care, and social (isolation, lack of supervision, etc.), emotional (mental health, fear of contracting COVID-19, etc.), or economic changes (finance disruptions, lack of childcare, etc.) induced by COVID-19 which may have impacted the child’s or parent’s decision-making and overall wellbeing leading to the child’s death,” asserted the report.
Even with the inclusion of deaths unrelated to COVID-19 infection, ADHS noted that the total child COVID-19 deaths totaled less than 1 per 100,000 last year.
Of the twelve who died from COVID-19 directly: seven were due to poverty and six lived in a rural region. Exact numbers couldn’t be provided for the number of children who had a chronic medical condition, no insurance, and/or an inflammatory syndrome because they numbered less than six.
According to ADHS, there have been a total of 50 individuals under the age of 20 whose cause of death could be attributed to COVID-19. ADHS catalogued deaths by age group; the deaths for those under 20 years old were so low in comparison to the other deaths that the ADHS tracker quantified it as less than one percent of all COVID-19 deaths.
Just under 1,200 total deaths for those aged 20-44, just over 1,700 deaths for those aged 45-54, well over 3,400 deaths for those aged 55-64, and over 15,800 for those over 65.
Currently, Humble serves as the director of the Arizona Public Health Association (AZPHA), a health lobbying organization affiliated with the national lobbying organization, American Public Health Association (APHA).
On Wednesday Governor Doug Ducey announced Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ will leave her position on August 27 for another leadership role as chief medical officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona.
Christ has led the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) as director since May 2015 after serving as chief medical officer, licensing director and deputy director of public health for the department since 2008. She will be the longest-serving director in the history of the department as of August 13, before her departure from the position.
Christ, an Infectious Disease Epidemiologist, earned a Bachelor and Master of Science in Microbiology from Arizona State University. She earned her Doctor of Medicine from the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson.
“When Cara Christ became a doctor, she did it to help others and save lives. That’s exactly what she’s done,” said Ducey. “She dedicated countless hours to protecting millions of Arizonans from the COVID-19 pandemic — and she’s done it with grace, stability and confidence. She implemented effective statewide testing and internationally-recognized mass vaccination sites, established the national model Arizona SurgeLine, worked hard to increase vaccinations for communities in need, and so much more.”
“Before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, my number one priority has been protecting the health of Arizonans all across our state,” said Dr. Christ. “When the pandemic hit, the entire state came together to contain the spread and protect one another — and I’m grateful to everyone who worked with our team at the Arizona Department of Health Services to protect fellow Arizonans. It has been an honor to lead ADHS and work to keep Arizonans of all ages, backgrounds and unique needs healthy and safe. I’m so proud to have been a part of this administration, and I thank Governor Ducey for entrusting me with responsibility for public health in Arizona and for working with me closely in the state’s response to COVID-19.”