New COVID-19 models done by ASU show hospitalization and death projections for the coming weeks.
The projections, compiled by the ASU modeling team, is their first update since November. The models show a January peak in hospitalizations, which are projected to continue decreasing through February.
"It's very clear that the numbers are improving," said Dr. Joshua LaBaer, executive director of ASU's Biodesign Institute.
The updated ASU model shows projections of hospitalizations, deaths and infections with scenarios that could also play out with a 10% deviation either way in the transmission rate. The model shows that total COVID-19 hospitalizations, now exceeding 4,000, could decline by roughly 50% over the next month.
"We think overall, the numbers are around somewhere between 22% and 27% of the population has been infected," Dr. LaBaer said.
The updated models also take a look at how the virus has spread across Arizona in recent months. After viral transmission slowed following last summer's surge, the modeling team noted that COVID-19 transmission saw a 79% increase around September 7.
The state saw another jump in the transmission rate around October 26. The state saw its highest level of virus transmission between October 26 and November 28, according to ASU's data. That timeframe included Halloween, the election and related rallies as well as Thanksgiving.
"I think you hit the main risk factors right on the head," Dr. LaBaer said. "I think some of the election activity certainly, probably contributed to spread of the virus. We think that, in terms of the holiday travel, it was probably people traveling to home here, and sort of new people entering the household that weren't there before that brought virus with them."
The models project COVID-19 deaths in Arizona could surpass 15,000 around the end of February. The Arizona Department of Health Services currently lists 13,362 people in Arizona as having died from COVID-19.
One of the wildcards going forward is the emergence of COVID-19 variants.
"It's a race against time right now between the variant, the UK variant which has got a high transmissibility, and the vaccine," Dr. LaBaer said. "I'm a little worried that the variant could win, but we'll have to see. I'm hopeful that it won't."
While the model from ASU projects improving hospital conditions going forward, a frontline doctor told ABC15 he is also seeing some relief.
"One thing that I have noticed is the number of patients that we're admitting has gone down," said Dr. Andrew Carroll.
Dr. Carroll is a family physician who has worked surge shifts at a Valley hospital. His latest round of surge shifts was just this past weekend.
"I'll recall one scene that I had when I went in on Saturday night, a nurse in the hallway of the emergency room, crying," he said. "I think things are just starting to wear down on people. People are getting tired and frustrated."
Dr. Carroll encouraged people to wear masks and take precautions against the virus, saying declining hospitalizations does not mean it's a time to celebrate.
"Once you start going downhill, you want to get to the bottom of the hill," Dr. Carroll said. "You still [have] to ski or you're going to crash."