The feared “tripledemic” fizzles in Arizona as cases drop during the holidays

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Dec. 29, 2022 at 8:09 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The “tripledemic” has landed with a thud in Arizona. In early October, with flu cases raging, RSV cases the highest in ten years and COVID cases on the rise, health officials predicted a banner year for respiratory diseases.

It has not played out that way. Statewide flu cases are dropping, RSV cases are on a sharp trajectory downward and COVID cases are a third of what they were at the beginning of the month.

“It’s really hard to figure out one single reason why we may be seeing some of the decreases,” said Eugene Livar, the Assistant Director for Public Health Preparedness at the State Health Department. “I hope individuals are taking positive steps for themselves and their families.”

That may be part of it, after three years dealing with the pandemic, it’s likely most people know the drill.

Masking, social distancing, vaccines and hand hygiene repeated hundreds of times by health officials and media. A saturation technique which may be paying dividends.

“I’m hoping people are taking some of the advice and implementing some of these steps as they’re thinking about how they’re going to gather and who they’re going to gather with and make some of those personal decisions that help protect themselves and their family members,” Livar said.

Still, while the numbers are good and makes the state happy, the health officials say now is not the time to let your guard down.

With the holidays still in full swing, school about to start in a week or so, with the Arizona Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Super Bowl all coming to town, there will be a lot of exposure from out of state guests.

“There’s usually a two to three week delay when we start seeing whether or not we’re going to see an increase in those numbers, he said.

Even though the state is happy about the numbers, that glee is not being celebrated in Pima County. While the state is seeing a consistent three week drop, Pima County reversed its trend and saw an upward bump of flu cases by 13% last week. “The data shows, which is the 18th of December to the 24th of December we’re still about three times higher than what we’ve seen in that week over the past five years,” said Matthew Christenberry,” an Epidemiologist for Pima County. “So looking at that comparison we’re a lot higher.”

But COVID and RSV are mirroring the state trends and have fallen, even after the predictions were for a significant increase as the winter respiratory disease kicked in.

Just the opposite happened but national trends are still lurking. “What we’re seeing with the cases nationally is just like Pima County, we see this increase in late November and nationally the cases dipped a bit but now they’re starting to go back up,” Christenberry said. “That’s always concerning.”

But it’s also believed that three years into the pandemic, those who are most at risk, like the elderly and those with immune issues, are taking precautions to protect themselves, and many, in return, are taking precautions to protect the most vulnerable, which in turn, protects everyone.

The next few weeks may bear that out, or not.