Optimism grows as COVID-19 vaccinations ramp up, cases fall, but experts warn against complacency

(Video by Tina Giuliano/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – A top Arizona health official on Wednesday said the number of COVID-19 cases in the state is “definitely trending in the right direction,” but he cautioned that “we need to keep following guidelines.”

“We need to keep wearing masks, and we need to keep staying separated,” Dr. Joshua LaBaer, the director of the Arizona State University Biodesign Institute, said Wednesday at his weekly briefing.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases reported daily by the Department of Health Services is dropping. For example, the state in January reported more than 10,000 cases a day for several days. That number has hovered below 5,000 this week.

However, the number of deaths related to COVID-19 continues its climb toward 15,000 Arizonans. The state on Wednesday reported 176 new deaths, bringing the total to 14,462, according to the department’s COVID-19 data site.

Gov. Doug Ducey on Wednesday announced on Twitter the state has administered more than 1 million vaccine doses, but he said more work needs to be done: “Arizonans are eager to get the vaccine, and we’re committed to distributing it safely and efficiently.”

LaBaer expressed some optimism about vaccinations in the state, saying the process has become more efficient.

Compared with two months ago, he said, Arizona now administers nearly 10 times the number of vaccines a day. LaBaer said the two state-run sites – at Phoenix Municipal Stadium and State Farm Stadium in Glendale – administer an average of about 11,600 doses a day.

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LaBaer also said there’s a long way to go: “The amount of vaccination that we have done in the state is tiny compared to the number of people in the state.” Arizona has more than 7.3 million people.

With steadily declining case numbers and more people vaccinated, it may be tempting to loosen some restrictions, said Dr. Greg Poland, a professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the Mayo Clinic.

While Arizonans wait their turn to receive a vaccine, it’s still highly recommended to continue wearing a mask and social distancing.

Wearing a proper mask is “a tool almost as great as a vaccine in many respects,” Poland said.

Poland sees the latest South African and U.K. variants of the coronavirus as reasons for concern.

“We are looking at variant viruses that combine aspects of increased lethality and increased transmissibility, which will almost certainty drive a new and likely worse surge depending on how successful we are at the race of time,” he said.

Testing remains a crucial tool in battling the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. ASU and the state announced a new COVID-19 saliva testing site at ASU SkySong in Scottsdale. The innovation center is expected to begin testing Feb. 16, and will be available Tuesdays through Saturdays, according to Greater Phoenix In Business magazine.

The site will provide 500 saliva tests per day, up to 2,500 each week, it said.

Erik Hansen Air-ick han-sen
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Erik Hansen expects to graduate in spring 2021. He has had internships at KTAR radio in Phoenix.

Concettina Giuliano con-CHE-TEE-nah Joo-lee-ah-no
News Reporter, Phoenix

Concettina Giuliano expects to graduate in spring 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in Spanish. Giuliano has worked at AZFamily, The Arizona Republic and the Chautauquan Daily, and her work has been featured on Telemundo.