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COVID-19 Mortality Ticks Upward
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29 April 2020   David Stringer

With higher levels of testing, the number of infections identified continues to increase.

Updated data on COVID-19 released today by the Arizona Department of Health Services shows fatalities increased by 18 since Monday for a current total of 293 deaths across the state. The great majority of deaths---223 out of 293, or 76%--are concentrated in those 65 and older. With higher levels of testing, the number of infections identified continues to increase. As of today, April 28, 2020, Arizona has reported 6948 cases, an increase of 232 from Monday

Health officials and the mainstream media continue to emphasize the spread of COVID-19 cases. But an examination of the data posted daily on the Department of Health Service’s dashboard suggests a more nuanced picture, at least for rural Arizona.

Five counties concentrated in the southeast quadrant of the state—Santa Cruz, Cochise, Graham, Greenlee and Gila—continue to report no COVID-19 related deaths. Several other counties continue to report deaths in the single digits—Yuma, La Paz, and Yavapai each report a single death. Mohave reports 4 deaths and Apache reports 5. Taken together, these ten counties reporting either no deaths or a relatively low number of deaths, constitute 10 of Arizona’s 15 counties and roughly 75% of the state’s geographic area.

Yavapai County, which reported one death in mid-April, has not seen an increase in mortality in nearly two weeks. There are currently 77 reported cases of COVID-19 in Yavapai County with no increase from yesterday. Authorities have not offered an explanation for this phenomena. But restricted travel in the state and relatively high levels of compliance with stay at home and social distancing guidelines are likely factors in keeping rural Arizona relatively healthy.

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The great majority of the state’s COVID-19 cases are concentrated in the population centers of Maricopa and Pima counties which make up over 70 percent of the state’s population. Maricopa reports 3578 infections and 137 deaths. Pima reports 1188 cases and 78 deaths. Taken together they account for 68% of Arizona’s infections and 73% of the state’s COVID-19 related deaths.

The state’s dashboard includes increasingly detailed information on age, gender, testing, hospitalizations, geographic distribution and race and ethnicity for those infected. An examination of this data suggests that the risk of infection and death are concentrated among those over the age of 65 and those suffering from underlying health conditions such as heart problems, diabetes or other respiratory illnesses. Those 65 and over and suffering from at least one other heath condition make up 43% percent of the reported cases and 76% of the reported deaths. Viewed in context, the data suggests that those under the age of 65 present a significantly lower risk profile.

Some mainstream media outlets and political commentators have emphasized racial disparities in infection and mortality rates around the country. The data reported for Arizona to date does not support this contention for most ethnic and racial groups. Aside from a spike in infections among Native Americans living on reservations who account for 5.3% of the state’s population and have reported 13% of the state’s infections and 19% of deaths, the incidence of infection among Arizona’s other major racial and ethnic groups is roughly in line with their percentage of the population.

For Blacks, which are roughly 5.1% of the state’s population, the infection and mortality rate are both 3%. For Asians who are 3.7% of the total population, the infection rate and mortality rates are 1%. For Hispanics, who are 31.6% of the total population, the infection rate is 17% with a mortality rate of 13%. For Whites, who are 54.4% of the population the infection rate stands at 29% with a mortality rate of 48%. The higher death rate for whites is likely attributable to a larger percentage over the age of 65. Ethnic and racial data on infections is not available for 35% of the population tested.

Readers can access the state’s dashboard online at the Arizona Department of Human Service’s website.