‘Not a good way to start out 2022’: As omicron spreads, testing demand rises in Arizona

By Stephanie Innes | Arizona Republic

COVID-19 cases in Arizona are spiking and demand for testing reached record levels Monday at several sites, an indication that the omicron variant is spreading across the state.

Embry Health in Arizona had more than 30,000 COVID-19 tests scheduled by midday Monday. Its previous pandemic record had been 18,000, said CEO Raymond Embry, whose company operates nearly 100 free testing sites across the state and employs about 800 people.

“We’re testing more patients than at any point in the pandemic,” he said. “While we’ve opened extra sites, still we don’t have that many more sites to warrant such a significant increase. The exposure that people have had right now is off the charts.”

The percentage of tests coming back positive at Embry sites as of Sunday night was 30.7% — the highest percentage of positive tests the company has recorded during the pandemic, Embry said.

“This is not a good way to start off 2022,” he said. 

Positive COVID-19 cases have been spiking statewide and the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests in Arizona last week was 22%, which was a significant jump from the 13% recorded the week before, state data shows.

A positivity rate of 5% or less is considered a good benchmark that the disease’s spread is under control.

“As is the case around the country, Arizona is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases amid the spread of the extraordinarily contagious omicron variant,” interim state health department director Don Herrington wrote Monday in a blog post.

 “… The ADHS COVID-19 dashboard shows a surge beginning two days after Christmas, with more than 7,000 cases and even 8,000-plus cases on days for which we’d expect to have the majority of results reported.”

Health care provider Danae Barrera talks people through the testing procedure at an Embry Health drive-thru COVID-19 test site on Jan. 4, 2022, in Phoenix.

‘I think this is definitely omicron’

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