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Hospitals near capacity and help with staffing may not be available this time

Fewer than 200 ICU beds available in Arizona as state reports more than 60,000 coronavirus cases
Posted at 4:47 PM, Nov 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-23 20:40:11-05

TUCSON, Ariz. — Hospitals in the Tucson area are once again near capacity.

The Pima County Health Director says ICU bed availability has been at times down to “the low single digits.” While ICU bed capacity may fluctuate and be increased in some circumstances, staffing could prove to be a continued problem.

“The numbers in the hospitals are going up. We have single-digits beds available,” said Pima County Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen. “We do know there were some counties [in the state] yesterday that had no beds available.

Cullen shared the data at a press conference with the University of Arizona. She says surge planning can allow for bed space to open up in some areas.

“In the summer, the hospitals all expanded their ICUs," Cullen said. "They moved into pediatric ICUs and put adults in there. We know the hospitals can do this. They all have surge plans in place. The staffing remains a very concerning factor for me.”

Cullen says staffing is in short supply. When Arizona spiked in the summer, hospitals were able to get help from other areas with more health care professionals to spare. But now cases are surging across the country.

“You may recall in the summer we had teams from lots of places around the country, but they were coordinated with health and human services," Cullen said. "In this case, everyone is asking for those teams.”

The CEO of Tucson Medical Center has been on record saying increased in-person learning for elementary schools would allow more nurses and technicians to return to work. Cullen says the county continues to recommend hybrid-learning.

“We are just advisors to them," she said. "On Friday, we did send out a memo they can continue to have K-12 hybrid.”

Cullen says the county is also considering requesting the community take voluntary measures to help hospitals get this current spike under control.

“Perhaps some limited curfew late in the evening early in the morning,” she said. “Our goal is to keep you safe. You are safest at home. You are not safe in large social gatherings."