While statewide coronavirus cases continue to rise, the Sun Cities hospitals are weathering the storm but officials are preparing for increased volume.
According to Arizona Department of Health Services statistics, there were 23 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Sun City’s 85351 ZIP code by April 15. State stats also showed there were 6-10 cases in Sun City’s 85373 Zip code and the same number in Sun City West, which is entirely covered by the 85375 code.
In addition to about one-third of Sun City, the 85373 code includes a large area that encompasses parts of Peoria and Surprise.
Officials at Banner Boswell, 10401 W. Thunderbird Blvd., Sun City, and Banner Del Webb, 14502 W. Meeker Blvd., Sun City West medical centers are not overloaded with patients, although specific numbers were not available.
“We are not currently experiencing capacity issues at our Arizona facilities,” David Lozano, Banner Health Marketing and Public Relations earned media senior manager, stated in an email. “I don’t have any concrete numbers to share at this time in relation to confirmed patient cases.”
He explained Banner officials have the ability to balance patients and resource throughout their system should any one hospital see higher volumes. They are also expecting a surge in COVID-19 cases and are preparing for that, according to Mr. Lozano.
“As we get closer to reaching the COVID-19 surge in Arizona, health systems would also work together with the state to coordinate load balancing across multiple health systems,” he stated.
Maricopa County Department of Public Health data shows the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations is growing at a slower rate since the end of March than in the weeks prior. Officials believe this is likely attributed to the protective measures individuals and the community are taking to slow the spread of disease.
“When we look at the hospitalization epidemiology curve, we can see that the number of new severe COVID-19 cases is not growing as rapidly as it was several weeks ago,” Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, Maricopa County Department of Public Health medical director for disease control, stated in a press release. “This tells us that, while the number of severe cases is still increasing, we have started to flatten the curve in Maricopa County.”
An epidemiology, or “epi,” curve is a public health tool used frequently in outbreaks that visualizes how many cases occur over time. The epi curve tells officials if the number of cases is growing rapidly and when cases are over the peak, according to Dr. Sunenshine. A hospitalization curve looks specifically at those who are hospitalized, showing the trends of the most severe cases and allowing public health experts who assess health data at the community level to estimate how many are impacted with less-severe symptoms in the community even when there is not enough testing available, she added.
Social distancing is avoiding those outside of a household as much as possible and maintaining at least six feet of distance between others when out in public. Social distancing examples include phone calls and video chats, walks around the neighborhood while keeping a six-foot distance from others, virtual book clubs, online workouts, among others, according to county health officials.
Banner officials are also taking precautions to make sure their employees have the personal protection equipment they need to treat patients.
“We are in absolute unprecedented times,” Christy Anderson, Banner Health executive director of innovation, said earlier this month. “We are all taking proactive preventative measures as much as we possibly can — whether it is ordering more supply from the existing manufacturers, or trying to produce extra quantities and alternative sources of supply.”
The PPE most in demand for health care workers are N95 masks and face shields. Modern technology is playing a huge role in making a dent in the PPE shortage.
Innovation Center at Barrow Neurological Institute, 350 W. Thomas Road, Phoenix officials engineered a way to develop N95-substitute masks and other PPE prototypes, including face shields and general surgical masks. Barrow officials previously printed 3D model replicas of patients’ brains and spines to help surgeons prepare for complicated procedures. But as the COVID-19 pandemic began to emerge, center officials applied these same principles to the global shortage of PPE that health care providers needed to safely care for COVID-19 patients.
“We’re doing this because we want our doctors, our nurses and our team to remain safe and healthy and on the front line,” said Barrow President and CEO Michael Lawton.
The N95-substitute masks are produced through a combination process of 3-D printing and silicone molding to create an airtight seal, according to a release from the center. A P100 filter is then used to allow the mask to be worn for up to three months if all parts are sanitized properly.
Center officials also decided to share their design templates and instructions online for others to produce more of these potentially life-saving PPE alternatives.
A similar type of technology is being utilized to produce face shields.
In the Sun Cities, groups stepped forward to produce and donate masks to both medical facilities and individuals. In Sun City West wood shop members donated three boxes of masks to Del Webb Medical Center officials while the Rip N Sew Club continues to produce cloth masks. The Bell Stitchers are also making cloth masks in Sun City to donate to those in need.