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Arizona reported another 3,056 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and a record 2,453 patients hospitalized, as trends continue to worsen statewide with no sign of abating. 

Inpatient beds and ventilators in use for suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients both hit their highest-ever numbers on Wednesday, according to the daily report from the Arizona Department of Health Services released Thursday morning.

Emergency department visits and ICU beds in use hovered around their highest levels as well, as Arizona deals with one of the worst surges of COVID-19 in the country.

The biggest jump came in inpatient beds, with 2,453 beds occupied by suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients Wednesday, compared with 2,270 Tuesday. This metric has been steadily climbing throughout June.

As of Wednesday, 85% of current inpatient beds and 88% of ICU beds were in use for COVID-19 and other patients.

Hospital discharge numbers are also up, with 203 COVID-19 patients discharged Wednesday, the most discharged in one day since April 18, although total hospital numbers are much higher now than they were then.

As a public service, The Arizona Republic is offering coronavirus coverage relating to public safety free of charge. Support The Republic by subscribing to azcentral.com.

Arizona also reported 27 new deaths from the disease confirmed as of Wednesday, but not all occurred in the past day.

More than 3,000 new cases have been reported on four of the past seven days, more than 2,000 new cases have been reported on seven of the past eight days, and more than 1,000 new cases have been reported on each of the past 16 days, according to state data.

While increased testing over the past month has contributed to an increase in numbers, it is only one factor contributing to a higher case count. The percentage of those tests coming back positive has spiked sharply since mid-May, indicating a significant increase in community spread.

During the past three weeks, cases increased by 177% and tests increased by just 86%. Last week, 18% of tests were positive. 

President Donald Trump visited the state Tuesday to see the border wall near Yuma and give a campaign speech in Phoenix. He spent little time discussing the new coronavirus despite its growing toll on the state.

Case spikes prompted Gov. Doug Ducey last week to allow Arizona cities and counties to enforce their own mask mandates, although he stopped short of issuing a statewide requirement despite growing pressure from the medical community.

Ducey acknowledged a troubling shift in the state's COVID-19 landscape, saying he was "adjusting" policy because "what we're seeing today concerns us."

Cities, counties and towns rushed to put rules in place, and Maricopa County stepped in on Friday to issue a mandate that applies to every community in metro Phoenix and the broader county. Some local jurisdictions had held back from imposing the rule, though most of the Valley's larger cities moved to adopt their own. 

Maricopa County health officials said Wednesday more than one-third of its cases have been recorded over the past week.

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Arizona's sharp uptick in coronavirus cases has occurred since Ducey's stay-at-home order expired in mid-May, raising questions and alarm locally and nationally about whether the state has done enough to slow the spread. 

Here's what you need to know about Thursday's new numbers.

Reported cases in Arizona: 63,030

  • Cases increased by 3,056, or 5.1%, from Wednesday's 59,974 identified cases since the outbreak began.
  • 37,135 in Maricopa, 6,546 in Pima, 5,113 in Yuma, 3,311 in Navajo, 2,912 in Pinal, 2,235 in Apache, 1,676 in Coconino, 1,587 in Santa Cruz, 881 in Mohave, 564 in Yavapai, 468 in Cochise, 299 in La Paz, 216 in Gila, 70 in Graham and 17 in Greenlee, according to state numbers.
  • Maricopa County public health officials said Wednesday that more than one-third of all their cases have been reported just in the last week.
  • The Navajo Nation reported 7,149 cases and 336 confirmed deaths as of Tuesday. The Navajo Nation includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
  • The Arizona Department of Corrections said 349 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Wednesday; 3,024 inmates have been tested out of a population of 40,318.
  • While race/ethnicity is unknown for 44% of cases, 26% of cases are Hispanic or Latino, 16% of cases are white, 9% are Native American and 2% are Black.
  • Laboratories have completed 463,800 diagnostic tests for COVID-19, 10.9% of which have come back positive.

Reported deaths: 1,490 known deaths 

  • Deaths increased by 27 from Wednesday's 1,463 known deaths.
  • 694 in Maricopa, 272 in Pima, 115 in Navajo, 91 in Coconino, 80 in Mohave, 73 in Apache, 68 in Yuma, 58 in Pinal, 14 in Santa Cruz, seven in Yavapai, six in Cochise, five in Gila, four in La Paz and fewer than three in Graham and Greenlee.
  • People aged 65 and older made up 1,118 of the 1,490 deaths, or 75%. 
  • While race/ethnicity is unknown for 10% of deaths, 45% of those who died were white, 21% were Hispanic or Latino, 18% were Native American and 3% were Black.

Hospitalizations still increasing

  • Inpatients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 tallied 2,453 statewide as of Wednesday, the highest number so far and the third day exceeding 2,000. Hospitalizations have eclipsed 1,000 daily for over the past three weeks, the highest they’ve been since the state began reporting the data April 8.
  • Ventilator use for suspected and confirmed positive COVID-19 patients was at its highest on Wednesday, with 415 patients on ventilators, surpassing the previous record of 407 on ventilators Tuesday. Overall, 54% of ventilators remained available Wednesday.
  • ICU bed use for suspected and confirmed positive COVID-19 patients was at 611 on Wednesday, just short of the previous high of 614 on Monday. Wednesday was the 10th consecutive day it has passed 500.
  • Emergency department visits for patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 was at 1,161 on Wednesday, falling from Sunday and Monday with 1,228 patients seen each day. Visits surpassed 800 on June 5 and have been above that level every day since. During April and May, emergency department daily visits for COVID-19 were typically in the 400s and 500s, rising into the 600s in the last few days of May.
  • The number of patients with suspected or confirmed positive COVID-19 discharged from hospitals was at 203 Wednesday, the most discharged in one day since April 18. The highest day for COVID-19 patient discharge was April 17, with 242 patients discharged.

What's the conversation about these trends? 

The state acknowledges troubling trends in recent COVID-19 data. In a marked shift in tone during last week's briefing, Ducey and Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, pointed to concerning trends of increasing cases and increasing percent of positive cases out of all tests. 

Ducey announced that the Arizona National Guard will assist with contact tracing for confirmed COVID-19 cases. He also announced new mandatory safety rules for private businesses

Prior to last week, the governor had long insisted the state was on the right track with its phased reopening, and focused the majority of the previous briefing on hospital capacity and the fact Arizona was prepared to handle a surge of patients. 

Trump visits Arizona but focuses little on COVID-19. Trump on Tuesday visited the border wall in Yuma, one of the hardest hit locations for COVID-19 statewide. He then gave a campaign speech to about 3,000 supporters in Phoenix, in which he spent fewer than 10 minutes of his 1½ hour speech discussing the new coronavirus, even though Arizona is one of the nation's hot spots for the virus. Despite the city's mask mandate, most of the attendees did not wear face coverings.

Although there is capacity, hospital systems worry about staffing and other challenges. Hospital leaders say that while there are plans in place for a surge of COVID-19 patients, it would put great pressure on staffing, test supplies and other hospital services.

Sticking out on the map. In some projections, Arizona is appearing among the worst places nationwide for COVID-19 spread. Youyang Gu, a data scientist behind covid19-projections.com, created a map of how cases are changing across states, taking into account both population and the rate of increase.

Arizona appears dark red, earning the worst score among all states for COVID-19 case changes, followed by Texas and Florida, the only other red states in the country. 

Key figures to watch

The percentage of positive tests is increasing. This is the opposite direction from White House reopening criteria. The percentage of positive tests out of all tests per week increased to 18% last week. That figure was 9% a month ago, up to 12% three weeks ago, to 14% two weeks ago. When the state decided to reopen on May 16, that number had been trending down, but it has been increasing ever since. 

An increasing share of COVID-19 cases are younger people. After the state reopened in mid-May, younger people began making up the majority of COVID-19 cases, largely due to increased activity in younger generations. While younger people are less likely to be hospitalized or have severe outcomes, they can still easily pass along the virus to older or more vulnerable individuals. 

Hospital capacity. Ducey has emphasized the state has enough hospital capacity, pointing to current available space in hospitals as well as additional surge methods and more beds that can be brought online if necessary.

If Arizona needs it, the former St. Luke's Medical Center in Phoenix is "ready for activation if and when we need additional capacity, something that is not necessary at this time," Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak wrote in an email last Monday.

Republic reporter Stephanie Innes contributed to this article.

Reach the reporter at Alison.Steinbach@arizonarepublic.com or at 602-444-4282. Follow her on Twitter @alisteinbach.

Support local journalism.Subscribe to azcentral.com today.

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