PHOENIX (AP) — The slight increases of COVID-19 cases reported in Arizona in recent days are to be expected and not necessarily cause for alarm, the state's top health official said Friday.
“We’ve got schools returning, we’ve got people going back to extracurricular activities. And so we will see an increase in cases,” Dr. Cara Christ, director of the state Department of Health Services, told reporters. “I don’t know that we’re so concerned about that, as long as our hospitalizations and deaths remain low or steady.”
Health officials confirmed an additional 1,302 cases, a daily increase nearly double the state's recent daily average. But officials said the new number was inflated by hundreds of months-old infections previously not documented as virus-related.
Not counting the 625 newly classified cases, the 677 other additional cases reported Friday nearly mirrored the state’s latest seven-day rolling average of 673 new cases as of Wednesday. That average doubled over the past two weeks from 327 on March 24, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
The older cases were from smaller counties and occurred during fall and winter surges — when the test positivity rate peaked at more than 19%.
The state also reported seven more deaths as the pandemic totals increased to 848,202 cases and 17,062 deaths.
COVID-19-related hospitalizations remained in the recent range of 500 to 600 cases, with 571 as of Thursday, according to state data.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher than reported because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
Another reason for upticks in cases is those who are fully vaccinated feel safer and forego any mitigation measures, Christ said. She reiterated those who have gotten their shots should continue wearing masks and distancing when they are around people they don't live with who aren't vaccinated.
Meanwhile, the state is moving ahead with expanding its vaccination plans. Christ announced a new mass vaccination site in Flagstaff will open April 19 on the Northern Arizona University campus. This will be the seventh state-run location that includes sites around metro Phoenix and one in Tucson and Yuma.
Nearly 4 million vaccine doses have been administered in Arizona. Roughly 2.5 million in the state have received a first dose, according to the state's data.
Site visits to vaccinate staff and residents at long-term care and assisted living facilities through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program will be completed later this month, Christ said. Vaccinations have been offered on-site at more than 1,500 long-term care facilities statewide.
In another development, Tempe joined several other cities in opting to maintain a mask mandate in all public facilities. The Tempe City Council voted Thursday night despite Republican Gov. Doug Ducey's March 25 order prohibiting enforcement of local mask mandates. Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff and Pima County have have taken similar stances.
Ducey has brushed off the continued or re-imposed local mandates, saying they were meaningless because local governments did virtually no actual enforcement.