While most of the United States has seen a steady decline in the number of new coronavirus cases lately, Arizona has been an outlier.
The state has not been overrun by another wave of viruses, but public health experts are concerned about a steady increase in the number of cases and hospitalizations. As of Monday, Arizona's daily average had risen 21 percent over the past two weeks, linking it to Wyoming for the largest increase in the country during that period. Only three other states reported increases of more than 10 percent at the time: Washington, Oregon and Missouri.
The daily tax on new business in Arizona, at 10 per 100,000 people, is still below the national average of 15 per 100,000. In the past 14 days, as federal health officials have suggested the virus trajectory is improving, the country has seen a 26 percent decline in new coronavirus cases, and 28 states have seen a 15 percent decline 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 rise in new cases can be attributed to several factors, including an influx of travelers in the spring and the prevalence of a virus variant first discovered in Britain. The variant, B.1.1.7., Has been associated with increased transferability.
Mr. Humble said the rise in Arizona is unlikely to produce a substantial rise in the number of deaths, which have declined in the state. Most of the older adults and other people in the state at risk for serious illness have already been vaccinated, he said, while the new cases are mainly people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who are more likely to have milder cases.
Mr Humble said the increase in cases now has "totally different public health implications" than it was a few months ago, when far fewer people were vaccinated.
"We're not going to have the kind of deadly experiences that we would have in December, January or February," said Mr Humble. Still, he said, there was "a remarkable upward movement in the beds of the general ward and also the I.C.U."
Arizona was slow to introduce restrictions and quickly lifted them last summer when cases skyrocketed and intensive care beds were nearly full. For more than a month, from early June to mid-July, the state reported new cases at the highest rate in the country, relative to size, peaking at 3,800 per day.
Gov. Doug Ducey signed an implementing decree in March, all restrictions of Covid-19 in the state were lifted and local governments could not impose mask mandates.
Mr. Humble said these policies had made Arizona more vulnerable. “There's no relief here at all, and it hasn't happened for months,” he said.
About 41 percent of Arizonans have received a first dose of the vaccine and 30 percent are fully vaccinated, just below the national average. But the picture differs significantly 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 less 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 significantly. "Vaccine appointments used to be cut off almost immediately when they were available," she said. "Now the time has come that it is possible to make an appointment on the same day at almost every state territory."