Arizona weekly COVID-19 update adds 8,661 cases, 67 deaths – The Arizona Republic

Reported COVID-19 cases in Arizona were similar to last week’s numbers and the percentage of tests returning positive for the virus declined, the state’s latest weekly update says.
Health officials on Wednesday added 8,661 new COVID-19 cases and 67 new known deaths over the weeklong period ending Aug. 20. June and July saw relatively similar weekly case additions, and the  Aug. 26 update for the week ending Aug. 13  — 8,505 new cases — was the lowest reported since May. 
Case counts are still far below the winter, state data shows. Case numbers in recent months likely are not showing the full picture of infections as many more people have used at-home test kits and may not report positive results to their doctors or county health departments. 
Some epidemiologists are predicting another wave of infections this fall and winter.
New Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna booster formulations of the COVID-19 vaccine that specifically target omicron subvariants were granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday and may soon be available. The Moderna version is for anyone age 18 and older, while the Pfizer version is for individuals 12 years and older.
Arizona, like other states, is seeing ongoing elevated cases largely driven by two contagious subvariants of the virus, BA.4 and BA.5, with BA.5 the more dominant of the two. It’s also likely contributing to reinfections given its contagiousness and ability to evade antibodies. 
Chinese officials ordered a lockdown Thursday for 21 million people in the southwestern city of Chengdu, citing an outbreak of COVID-19 cases as the nation of more than 1.4 billion continues its “zero COVID” policy, USA TODAY reported. 
And the U.S. reported 15,850 deaths from COVID-19 in August, which is the highest national toll in several months, according to USA TODAY.
Residents in just one of Arizona’s 15 counties — Apache — should be wearing face masks indoors in public because of COVID-19 levels, according to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of Sept. 1. 
The CDC’s “community level” guidance is updated weekly and ranks counties as low, medium and high, or green, yellow and orange. The five Arizona counties designated as “medium” were Navajo, Gila, Santa Cruz, Yuma and La Paz. Maricopa, Pinal, Pima, Mohave, Coconino, Cochise, Greenlee, Graham and Yavapai were “low” as of Sept. 1. 
The metrics are based on a county’s COVID-19 hospital bed use, COVID-19 hospital admissions and case rates for the virus over the past week.
Reported cases since the pandemic began are over 2.2 million. Known deaths in Arizona are at about 31,114. 
Wednesday marked the 27th of the weekly updates to the state’s data dashboard, instead of daily updates that Arizonans became accustomed to following for the latest data on infections, illnesses and deaths.
The previous week’s update added 8,505 cases and 65 deaths, compared with 12,224 cases and 81 deaths three weeks ago and 13,501 cases and 59 deaths four weeks ago.
This week’s update shows the differences between data reported for the week of Aug. 21-27 and Aug. 14-20.
Health officials say weekly updates match how public health monitors trends and other disease reporting. 
Case numbers generally were relatively lower in the past couple of months, and public health experts estimate cases of the highly contagious omicron variant peaked in Arizona around mid-January.
The state data dashboard no longer shows key hospitalization information since Gov. Doug Ducey ended the COVID-19 emergency declaration on March 30. State health officials said hospitals are no longer required to report some COVID-19 surveillance data to the state, meaning certain graphs showing weekly hospitalization levels for the disease and bed usage by COVID-19 patients are no longer updated.
At the time that data reporting stopped, hospitalizations for the disease had dropped steadily since late January.
The CDC still reports state hospitalization data for Arizona and showed a 18.8% decrease in the seven-day average of COVID-19 hospital admissions during Aug. 22-28 compared with Aug. 15-21. Hospital admissions last week were down 88.6% from the peak seven-day average in early January 2021. 
The number of known deaths in the state was at 31,114 as of Wednesday, after passing 30,000 known deaths in the May 4 update, The state surpassed 25,000 deaths on Jan. 13. Deaths are now reported with a four-week lag. 
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention places Arizona’s overall pandemic death rate since early 2020 as the third-highest nationwide.
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As of Aug. 24, there had been 2,883 breakthrough deaths in fully vaccinated individuals, according to state health officials’ preliminary data, which works out to a breakthrough death rate of about 0.06% among fully vaccinated people.  
The state in December began publicly disclosing data on breakthrough COVID-19 infections, and state officials say the data underscores the effectiveness of the vaccine, especially for people with booster doses.
Data from June show that 23.3% of hospitalizations and 22.4% of COVID-19 deaths were among fully vaccinated people without a booster, with 47.3% of hospitalizations and 42.7% of deaths among unvaccinated people. Fully vaccinated people with a booster made up 29.4% of hospitalizations and 34.9% of deaths in June. 
The monthly data no longer includes a breakdown of cases by vaccination status, just hospitalizations and deaths. Health officials said that’s because testing changes, including more at-home testing, made that comparison “far less reliable.” 
The COVID-19 virus’ disproportionate impact on older adults, who are also more likely to have a booster dose, could help explain why a higher percentage of people who were fully vaccinated and boosted died of COVID-19 in June than those who were fully vaccinated and not boosted. The effectiveness of boosters also appears to wane after several months, but the precise explanation for those percentages of deaths is unclear.
Health officials emphasize the best protection against severe illness from COVID-19 is to remain up to date with recommended vaccinations, including second booster doses for those 50 and older and people who are immunocompromised. The FDA on Wednesday authorized the new booster formulations as a single booster dose at least two months following primary or booster vaccination.
“The FDA has extensive experience with strain changes for annual influenza vaccines. We are confident in the evidence supporting these authorizations,” Dr. Peter Marks,  director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research said in a statement Wednesday.
“We sought input from our outside experts on the inclusion of an omicron component in COVID-19 boosters to provide better protection against COVID-19. We have worked closely with the vaccine manufacturers to ensure the development of these updated boosters was done safely and efficiently.”
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Contagious omicron subvariants, particularly BA.5, are contributing to many of the cases in Arizona, according to results from sequencing labs.
Percent positivity, which refers to the percentage of COVID-19 diagnostic tests that are positive, varies somewhat based on how it’s measured. It was high in the winter months, a sign of more community spread. Then it was much lower but began climbing upward in April.
Arizona’s percent positivity for COVID-19 testing was at 3% for the week of April 3, and went up in subsequent weeks. It was 29% for the week of July 10, 29% for the week of July 17, 27% for the week of July 24, 24% for the week of July 31. It has since continued to go down — 21% for the week of Aug. 7, 17% for the week of Aug. 14 and 14% for the week of Aug. 21. The percentages are now for all diagnostic tests conducted, rather than for unique individuals tested, after a change to the state dashboard.
A positivity rate of 5% or less is considered a good benchmark that the disease’s spread is under control.
The state’s overall COVID-19 death and case rates since Jan. 21, 2020, still remain among the worst in the country.
The COVID-19 death rate in Arizona since the pandemic began is 426 deaths per 100,000 people as of Tuesday, according to the CDC, putting it third in the country in a state ranking that separates New York City from New York state. The U.S. average is 312 deaths per 100,000 people as of Tuesday, according to the CDC
New York City has the highest death rate, at 494 deaths per 100,000 people, followed by Mississippi at 428.
Arizona’s first known death from the disease occurred in mid-March 2020.
Many of the reported deaths occurred days or weeks before because of reporting delays and death certificate matching.
A total of 2,254,374 COVID-19 cases were identified across the state through Aug. 20.
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Arizonans ages 6 months and older are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, while the Moderna vaccine is approved for children ages 6 months to 5 years and people 18 and older. The CDC has recommended the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on a more limited basis for people 18 and older. Many individuals are eligible for booster doses, too.
The state reported nearly 5.3 million people in Arizona — about 73.5% of the total state population — had received at least one vaccine dose through Aug. 20, with about 4.5 million residents fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The state’s data dashboard now separates out doses administered to Arizona residents versus all doses administered in the state.
Arizona’s rate of fully vaccinated people out of the total population was 63.1%, which was behind the national rate of 67.4%, according to the CDC as of Aug. 30.
There’s a wide range of vaccine uptake across the U.S. Nearly 85% of the total population of Rhode Island is fully vaccinated, which is the highest rate in the U.S. In Wyoming, which has the lowest rate, just 51.8% of the population is fully vaccinated, per the CDC.
Out of people ages 5 and older, 67% of those in Arizona were fully vaccinated, compared with 71.6% at the national level, CDC data shows. 
Health experts strongly recommend booster shots for those eligible, especially with the omicron variant spreading. About 48% of fully vaccinated Arizonans over the age of 18 had received a first booster shot as of Aug. 30, below the national rate of 51.6% for that same age group. 
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Reported cases in Arizona: 2,254,374, as of Aug. 20.
Cases by county: 1,415,836 in Maricopa; 288,089 in Pima; 146,175 in Pinal; 67,329 in Yuma; 63,492 in Mohave; 54,458 in Yavapai; 49,210 in Coconino; 43,756 in Navajo; 35,747 in Cochise; 30,733 in Apache; 19,634 in Gila; 18,415 in Santa Cruz; 13,323 in Graham; 5,729 in La Paz; and 2,448 in Greenlee, according to state numbers. 
The rate of cases per 100,000 people since the pandemic began is highest in Apache County, followed by Navajo, Gila, Santa Cruz, Graham and Coconino counties, according to state data. The rate in Apache County is 42,799 cases per 100,000 people. By comparison, the U.S. average rate since the pandemic began is 28,347 cases per 100,000 people as of Tuesday, according to the CDC
The Navajo Nation reported 71,746 cases and 1,884 confirmed deaths as of  Aug. 30. The Navajo Nation includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. 
The Arizona Department of Corrections reported 15,401 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday, the highest number at its Tucson facility with 2,470 confirmed positive cases. A total of 5,630 prison staff members have self-reported testing positive, the department said. Sixty-two incarcerated people in Arizona are confirmed to have died of COVID-19, with six additional deaths under investigation. 
The race/ethnicity breakdown of cases since the start of the pandemic in 2020 is 40% white, 29% Hispanic or Latino, 5% American Indian, 4% Black and 2% Asian/Pacific Islander. Race/ethnicity of positive cases since the onset of the pandemic is unknown in 14% of cases and listed as other race in 6% of cases. 
Laboratories had completed 2,217,474 total diagnostic tests for COVID-19 as of Aug. 20, 14.4% of which have come back positive. That number includes both PCR and antigen testing.
Percent positivity was at 14% for the week of Aug. 21, slightly lower than previous weeks but still at a high level. The state numbers leave out data from labs that do not report electronically.
The state Health Department includes probable cases as anyone with a positive antigen test, another type of test to determine infection. Antigen tests (not related to antibody tests) use a nasal swab or another fluid sample to test for current infection. Results are typically produced within 15 minutes.
A positive antigen test result is considered very accurate, but there’s an increased chance of false-negative results, Mayo Clinic officials said. They say a doctor may recommend a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test to confirm a negative antigen test result.
Arizona as of Tuesday had the 14th highest overall case rate of all U.S. states and territories since Jan. 21, 2020, per the CDC.  Ahead of Arizona in cases per 100,000 people since the pandemic began are Alaska, Rhode Island, North Dakota, Kentucky, Guam, Tennessee, New York City, Florida, West Virginia, South Carolina, Utah, Wisconsin, Delaware and Arizona, according to the CDC
Arizona’s infection rate is 30,853 cases per 100,000 people, according to the CDC. The national average is 28,347 cases per 100,000 people, although the rates in states hard hit early in the pandemic may be an undercount because of a lack of available testing in March and April 2020. 
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Deaths by county: 17,792 in Maricopa; 3,967 in Pima; 1,721 in Pinal; 1,529 in Mohave; 1,267 in Yavapai; 1,199 in Yuma; 932 in Navajo; 622 in Apache; 591 in Cochise; 493 in Coconino; 392 in Gila; 238 in Santa Cruz; 183 in Graham; 149 in La Paz; and 39 in Greenlee. 
People age 65 and older make up 22,185 of the 31,114 deaths, or 71%. About 15% of deaths were among people 55-64 years old, 8% were 45-54 and 5% were 20-44 years old. 
While race/ethnicity was unknown for 4% of deaths, 56% of those who died were white, 26% were Hispanic or Latino, 7% were Native American, 3% were Black and 1% were Asian/Pacific Islander, the state data shows. 
The global death toll as of Wednesday was 6,493,529. The U.S. had the highest death count of any country in the world, at 1,045,621, followed by Brazil at 683,851 and India at 527,871, according to Johns Hopkins University
Arizona’s 31,114 deaths represent about 3% of COVID-19 deaths in the United States.
Reporter Alison Steinbach contributed to this article. Reach the reporter at or at 602-444-4282. Follow her on Twitter @alisteinbach.
Reach health reporter Stephanie Innes at or at 602-444-8369. Follow her on Twitter @stephanieinnes.
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