- Associated Press - Thursday, December 31, 2020

PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona on Thursday reported over 7,000 new COVID-19 cases and 146 deaths as the state’s health care system struggled to cope with a surge that set another hospitalization record.

The 7,718 new infections that the Department of Health Services reported brings the statewide totals to 520,207 cases and 8,864 deaths since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The 4,564 COVID-19-related hospitalizations as of Wednesday were the latest in a string of pandemic highs set since early December. The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care beds dropped slightly to 1,028, down from Tuesday’s record of 1,076, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.

Arizona hospitals have been hammered by the surge of COVID-19 patients, who occupy over half of the state’s inpatient beds and nearly three of every five ICU beds.

Phoenix-based Banner Health, the largest health system in the state, said Wednesday that it had suspended elective surgeries to free up capacity for treating COVID-19 patients. Some of Banner’s hospitals were among those resorting to turning away patients arriving by ambulance or being transferred from other hospitals, while still accepting walk-in patients needing emergency care.

Arizona had the nation’s fourth-highest COVID-19 diagnosis rate over the past week, behind California, Tennessee and Rhodes Island. The diagnosis rate is calculated by dividing a state’s population by the number of new cases.

Arizona’s seven-day rolling average of daily confirmed cases dropped from about 6,659 reported on Dec. 16 to the average of 5,602 reported on Wednesday, while the rolling average of daily deaths rose from 64 to 77 over the same period, according to data from Johns Hopkins University and the COVID Tracking Project.

With the state behind on setting up a mass vaccination program, Gov. Doug Ducey on Wednesday ordered the Department of Health Services to establish a statewide distribution system rather than continuing to rely on county health departments to manage the program in their own areas.

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