Death toll from COVID-19 in Arizona tops 4,000

PHOENIX (AP) — The number of known coronavirus-related deaths in Arizona has now surpassed 4,000, health officials said Thursday.

The Arizona Department of Health Services reported another 1,444 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 70 more deaths. This brings the total number of cases since the pandemic began to 183,647 and the death toll to 4,002.

Some of the fatalities were likely counted after health officials reviewed death certificates going back weeks.

Still, the news comes a day after Maricopa County public health officials confirmed 22 bodies were moved to portable storage coolers. The action was taken after the medical examiner's office in metro Phoenix became 86% full, according to Robert Rowley, director of the county's emergency management department. It's a significant increase compared with the same time a year ago, he said.

Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director of disease control for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, said the county has seen more deaths than usual since January. Those are likely to include people who were hesitant to seek care for other conditions. The upward trend in deaths will likely "sustain itself for at least the coming weeks,” Sunenshine said.

Overall, more than half of the COVID-19 related deaths have occurred in the state’s most populous county.

On the positive side, statewide in-patient hospitalizations, ventilator usage and intensive care unit bed occupancy continue to show incremental decreases. But hospital ICU bed capacity remains high at 83%.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough.

However, for some people who contract the virus, especially those who are older or have underlying health conditions, it can cause more severe illness and death.

The vast majority of people diagnosed with COVID-19 recover.