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  What Is Happening In Arizona?
With talk about the likelihood of a second wave of Coronavirus infections building nationally, Arizona has become the new focus of the media because of a recent spike in cases. With that in mind, we did a little digging to see what is going on in Arizona and if it has any insights for other states that are also experiencing a rise in cases. Looking at the chart below you can tell why people would be alarmed. Arizona now has more daily new cases than New York, the prior national hotspot of the pandemic. Their positive test rate has also been rising so it isn't just a function of more testing. One possibility is that the state has begun focusing testing on locations like meat packing plants and prisons that we know have a high probability of infection and transmission.
 

 
However, it's important to remember that not all cases are equal. For example, a younger person who is asymptomatic and an older person with preexisting conditions could both test positive and show up as a confirmed case, but obviously the latter is much more worrisome. With that in mind we can't just look at new cases, but also need the context of deaths and hospitalizations to get the full picture of what is going on. Fortunately, the new cases being found in Arizona don't look to be as deadly as previously. This is probably because older people who are more at risk are continuing to socially distance themselves voluntarily while others make calculated risks. Deaths have continued to trend down despite the surge in cases. Deaths do show up with more of a lag though so some of the surge might just not be showing up yet.
 

 
That said, Arizona does have an older than average population and there have been reports of certain hospitals in Arizona reaching capacity. In fact, the number of current hospitalizations have been rising along with the surge in cases.

 

 
There's a caveat here though. The Arizona Department of Health tracks ICU bed capacity utilization, and despite the recent surge in hospitalizations that began on May 22nd, that measure has only risen marginally from around 78% to 79%.
 

 
So there is no evidence that hospital capacity is overwhelmed. Our guess is that most of the surge in hospitalizations are from cases that are not very serious and don't necessitate ICU admission. Its either that or Arizona has a huge number of ICU beds sitting empty and ready to go. The anecdotal reports about certain hospitals being overwhelmed are probably from specific hotspot areas just like we saw in the Bronx in NYC earlier in the pandemic. In fact, according to the Arizona Department of Health it looks like Maricopa County is that hotspot as you can see on the heat map of the state below that shows where the hospitalizations are. This may also be related to the rise in confirmed cases as well. If Arizona is pursuing more of a South Korean model of containment, they could be focusing testing resources more heavily on the Maricopa County hotspot in an effort to identify and contain the spread quickly. We believe this kind of strategy is highly preferable to a statewide lockdown that would needlessly harm counties where cases look to be mostly under control.  
 

 

So for the most part, if you need a hospital in Arizona there are probably ones available close by in-state that can accommodate you. Overall a mixed bag, but certainly not the apocalypse.

Bryce Gill - Economist

Posted on Thursday, June 11, 2020 @ 12:15 PM • Post Link Share: 
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