Upgraded Arizona data gives a clearer picture of the most recent pandemic wave, including an increased proportion of COVID-19 deaths in younger age groups.
While nearly three-quarters of COVID-19 deaths in Arizona since the beginning of the pandemic were in people ages 65 and older, that percentage has dropped to 57% since mid-April, the enhanced state data says.
State health officials on Wednesday rolled out the first significant upgrade to the COVID-19 statewide data dashboard in months, offering the public a better view of the disease’s impact here during the last six months, when preventive COVID-19 vaccines were available.
The Arizona Department of Health Services’ dashboard, first published more than a year and a half ago to publicly share daily data on the pandemic’s spread, has been updated several times to add new information or change displays.
The latest changes split the data displays to show numbers for the last six months and numbers for the entire pandemic as separate view options. The dashboard now provides more data on vaccinations, deaths, hospitalizations and outbreaks.
Even with the COVID-19 vaccine widely available, there have been 17,186 individuals hospitalized for COVID-19 in Arizona over the last six months, and 3,029 deaths.
But important data is still missing, specifically on breakthrough cases among fully vaccinated people and on how many Arizonans are getting booster shots.
Here are five takeaways from the upgraded dashboard:
It gives a better picture of what is happening in Arizona
The biggest immediate change is that the dashboard pages default to display the last six months of data rather than data for the entire pandemic. Data for the entire pandemic can still be found by clicking the “All Time” header on the dashboard pages.
The last six months view options provide a clearer picture of where and in which demographic groups the virus has been hitting the hardest in recent months.
The main summary page still defaults to show data since the pandemic began, but clicking “Last 6 Months” switches the page to more recent data in some of the categories.
The ZIP code cases by day page now defaults to show case rates spread on a map using just positive tests in the last month, which better highlights which areas are hot spots now.
The default on test percent positivity is now the percentage of diagnostic tests conducted that are positive. The previous dashboard separated out unique individuals tested and all tests conducted, but the dashboard no longer shows percent positivity for people tested. For the week so far, about 11% of tests conducted have been positive, the data shows.
Still some key data points are missing
The updated dashboard still does not provide any information on breakthrough cases or booster shots.
State health officials told The Arizona Republic “there are no immediate plans” to add either to the dashboard.
“There are inherent challenges to presenting each of these in terms of the data currently available and when that data is available,” department spokesperson Steve Elliott wrote in an email.
Nearly 18% of new cases in September were breakthrough COVID-19 infections, according to state health officials. That’s up from about 14% in July and 15% in August. But still the vast majority of cases, hospitalizations and deaths are in people not fully vaccinated.
Breakthrough deaths are rare, but they do happen. As of Oct. 4, preliminary data showed there had been 238 known breakthrough deaths in the state, officials said.
Booster data is not on the dashboard, even though many Arizonans are now eligible for third shots of Pfizer based on their age, health conditions or high-risk jobs.
Over 12% of fully vaccinated Americans 65 and older have received a booster dose since mid-August, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That metric is not publicly available on the Arizona dashboard.
State health officials told The Arizona Republic that as of Oct. 6, 60,447 Arizonans — about 12% of the 496,295 eligible as of that date — had received a Pfizer booster shot.
Vaccination data is expanded
The page for vaccine administration shows two tabs, one for doses given based on county of residence and the other for doses given based on where in Arizona the vaccine was administered. The first tab is new and more clearly reflects vaccination rates for residents of each county and the state.
The pages show, for the first time, the percentage of eligible individuals who have received at least one dose and the percentage of individuals vaccinated with at least one dose by age.
Among Arizona residents, about 87% of those 65 and older have received at least one dose, compared with 72% of those 55-64, 65% of those 45-54, 56% of those 20-44 and 20% of those under 20.
The dashboard says that close to 350,000 doses have been administered to out-of-state residents.
A larger proportion of younger people have been dying recently of COVID-19
Statewide since the pandemic began, 72% of deaths have been in those 65 and older, 15% in those 55-64, 7% in those 45-54 and 5% in those 20-44.
But in the last six months those ratios have shifted: 57% of deaths have been in those 65 and older, 19% in those 55-64, 13% in those 45-54 and 11% in those 20-44.
Hospitalization percentages have changed, too. During the last six months, 31% of hospitalizations were people ages 65 and older. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 42% of hospitalizations were people 65 and older, the data shows.
A key contributing factor is likely that the 65 and older age group has a higher vaccination rate and is more protected from serious outcomes from COVID-19 than younger age groups. Hospital officials report that nearly all their COVID-19 patients have not been fully vaccinated. Arizona’s vaccination rate still trails the national average.
Data on the death and hospitalization pages can also now be filtered by county. Instead of just seeing overall deaths and hospitalizations broken down by gender, age group and race/ethnicity, that information is now available for the county level, too.
Outbreaks are reorganized by case date
The tab on congregate settings with positive COVID-19 cases now shows a chart organized by the date the first case of an outbreak occurred, rather than the date an outbreak was reported to public health.
“This new way of displaying the data provides better insight into when outbreaks occurred,” ADHS interim director Don Herrington wrote in a blog post.
But the information on outbreaks is still limited because there’s no way to pinpoint when outbreaks at certain settings (schools, workplaces, etc.) happened. The chart just shows the total number of settings with outbreaks each week and in each county, but not what type of facilities had outbreaks.
Since the pandemic began, the highest number of outbreaks have been in assisted living settings, followed closely by child care, day care and school settings, with 1,179 and 1,119 outbreaks, respectively.
In the last six months, there have been significantly more outbreaks in child care, day care and school settings: 623 outbreaks compared to 165 outbreaks in assisted living settings.
The week of Aug. 8 saw the highest number of settings across the state reporting outbreaks since the pandemic began, with 149 congregate settings seeing outbreaks starting that week.
Reach the reporter at Stephanie.Innes@gannett.com or at 602-444-8369. Follow her on Twitter @stephanieinnes.