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COVID-19 (Photo: Irina Shatilova, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

While it’s not at the epicenter of a recent surge in U.S. cases, Arizona’s COVID-19 metrics are worsening.

Dr. Cara Christ, Arizona Department of Health Services director,said Arizona is at a “pivotal” moment for COVID-19. She does not want to see another scenario like summer, when coronavirus cases exploded in the state.

“A lot of it is going to depend on the upcoming weeks,” Christ told The Arizona Republic on Wednesday. “This pandemic has been so hard to predict and watching what the other states are going through, it’s certainly a possibility, which is why I think right now I think is a pivotal point to remind everybody to keep doing those mitigation strategies.”

Arizona is not seeing the rapid surges spreading across many other states, including Wisconsin and other parts of the Midwest.

Comparatively, Arizona is doing much better than many.

But it doesn’t take much for case counts to escalate, which in turn leads to increased hospitalizations and deaths.

“Our sister states New Mexico and Utah are having very bad rounds of it right now, where their hospital capacity is getting stretched,” said Dr. Marjorie Bessel, chief clinical officer for Banner Health, which is Arizona’s largest health delivery system. “It’s not really practical to think some of that isn’t going to come into Arizona and we’re not going to have increased activity.”

Daily case counts, hospitalizations, ICU beds in use and ventilators in use have seen gradual increases. Arizona’s reproduction rate for the SARS-CoV-2 virus is at 1.16, around the same level as early June, according to rt.live, a tracking website created by Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, using data from the COVID Tracking Project.

The reproduction rate means the virus is spreading at about the same rate it was in early June, and at a faster rate than desired. The metric was below one, meaning infections slowed, from late June to early September, after which it’s gradually increased.

“It’s one of many metrics that we are watching. It’s an easy metric to direct Arizonans to,” Christ said. “Hopefully they can make changes in what they are doing to help bring that reproduction number down.

Arizona’s cases spiked in June and July to one of the worst surges in the world, causing a domino effect of hospitalizations, an increased need for ICU beds and a rise in deaths.

All of Arizona’s COVID-19 metrics remain far below the levels hit during the state’s summer peak for the virus, but experts caution that the increases seen in recent weeks could again quickly mushroom out of control.

“If you look at where we’re at now, it’s only a matter of time,” said Joshua LaBaer, director of the Arizona State University Biodesign Institute and leader of the university’s COVID-19 research efforts. LaBaer pointed to the upward-trending case increases since the end of September.

In a news briefing Wednesday, LaBaer said there’s no doubt in his mind that Arizona is in a COVID-19