Arizona marks 2 years since state's first COVID-19 case - Albuquerque Journal

Arizona marks 2 years since state’s first COVID-19 case

PHOENIX — As some expressed cautious optimism that Arizona’s surge of COVID-19 will soon peak, public health experts, overworked health care workers and former Arizona State University students reflected Wednesday on the anniversary of the state’s first coronavirus case.

It was the start of what has now been a grueling two-year ordeal.

“It’s just a staggering effect, something that has now become the leading cause of death here in Arizona … easily outpacing both heart disease and cancer,” Dr. Joshua LaBaer, executive director of Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, said during a virtual news briefing.

The state Department of Health Services on Wednesday reported 275 additional COVID-19-related deaths. It’s the highest daily count of deaths seen during the pandemic, LaBaer said.

Dr. Michael White, chief clinical officer of Phoenix-based Valleywise Health, remembers wondering how health care systems and hospitals would prepare for someone with the virus coming in. Today, like other hospitals, Valleywise is consumed with trying to juggle a high volume of patients for the highly transmissible omicron variant or other issues. Meanwhile, other surgeries get postponed and health care workers are emotionally taxed.

“We’ve seen people that have left health care that need a break from being able to do this work because it is hard work,” White told reporters.

As of Tuesday, statewide hospitalizations due to COVID-19 dipped slightly to 3,511.

Valleywise is treating 70 patients for COVID-19 with 10 of them in the ICU — the most in this wave. But it’s not far off from the highest they’ve ever seen — 88 in January 2021 — according to White. But he is hopeful that their hospitalizations will crest by the end of this week or early next week.

LaBaer concurred that things could peak by the beginning of February. Data indicates Arizona’s seven-day average of new cases has started decreasing the past two days.

It was Jan. 26, 2020, when Arizona’s first coronavirus case surfaced, bringing the nationwide total to five. The infected person lived in in Maricopa County, had ties to ASU and had a history of travel to Wuhan, China, state health officials said at the time.

Like U.S. health officials, ASU administrators tried to squelch panic and reassured students they were safe from the virus. Still, many decried having to be on campus. Within two days, nearly 20,000 signed an online petition to cancel classes.

It wasn’t until mid-March 2020 that ASU transitioned to remote learning. Students were given a choice of learning environment during the following semester and through spring 2021. It was last fall that the school fully returned to in-person.

ASU also banned students, faculty and staff who travel on behalf of the university from going to China. Meanwhile, students of Asian descent almost immediately faced being shunned.

Aretha Deng, a junior then, still remembers sitting down a day after the news broke at a communal table where several students had their stuff spread out.

“I sat down and within like a minute or so they gathered their stuff and they left,” said Deng, who graduated in May and now lives in Modesto, California. That same week her friend was in an elevator when a man going to the same floor “proceeded to ask my friend who’s also Chinese American ‘Are you Chinese?’ My friend said yes and the guy got off at (another) floor.”

Mezquite Nguyen, who went by Tevinh at the time and is non-binary, was a senior and president of the ASU Asian/Asian Pacific American Students’ Coalition. They remember writing a news release “to call out people using quote-unquote ‘public health’ rhetoric and just fears of coronavirus to justify xenophobic and racist sentiments.”

There have been more than 10,000 anti-Asian hate incidents nationwide in the last two years, according to the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center.

“It’s very weird to look back,” said Nguyen, who now lives in Austin, Texas. “At that time, a lot of people were doubting the severity of the racism and xenophobia.”

While the pandemic lingers, some like LaBaer are trying to highlight the positive. Unlike two years ago, there were no vaccines.

“Just imagine where we would be if an omicron variant struck us and we did not have some degree of vaccination that could protect us against severe illness,” LaBaer said. “I think the outcomes would be even more devastating.”

State health officials on Wednesday reported 18,299 new confirmed cases. That brings Arizona’s total number of cases during the pandemic to nearly 1.8 million. The death toll is now at 25,899.

Home » Around the Region » Arizona marks 2 years since state’s first COVID-19 case

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email

taboola desktop

Proposed revision of Mexican wolf management plan draws ire
ABQnews Seeker
Wildlife officials outline wild animal removal, ... Wildlife officials outline wild animal removal, recovery; ranchers worried about livestock
Search continues for Texas inmate who escaped prison bus
Around the Region
Authorities were searching Friday for a ... Authorities were searching Friday for a Texas inmate serving a life sentence for murder who escaped from a transport bus after stabbing the driver. ...
Dallas police: Shooting at Koreatown salon not hate crime
Around the Region
The Dallas police chief said Thursday ... The Dallas police chief said Thursday that they don't believe a shooting at a hair salon in Dallas' Koreatown area that injured three women ...
Biden cancels offshore oil lease sales in Gulf Coast, ...
Around the Region
The Biden administration is canceling three ... The Biden administration is canceling three oil and gas lease sales scheduled in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska, removing ...
Lawyer: Texas man killed by police was shot in ...
Around the Region
An attorney for the family of ... An attorney for the family of a 29-year-old Black man fatally shot last month by a Houston police officer said that an independent autopsy ...
US finds 500 Native American boarding school deaths so ...
ABQnews Seeker
A first-of-its-kind federal study of Native ... A first-of-its-kind federal study of Native American boarding schools that for over a century sought to assimilate Indigenous children into white society has identified ...
Clarence Dixon dies in Arizona's 1st execution since 2014
Around the Region
An Arizona man convicted of killing ... An Arizona man convicted of killing a college student in 1978 was put to death Wednesday after a nearly eight-year hiatus in the state's ...
US casinos had best month ever in March, winning ...
Around the Region
Inflation may be soaring, supply chains ... Inflation may be soaring, supply chains remain snarled and the coronavirus just won't go away, but America's casinos are humming right along, recording the ...
Arizona awards highly sought social equity pot licenses
Around the Region
Arizona's public health agency has awarded ... Arizona's public health agency has awarded more than two dozen social equity dispensary licenses under the state's voter-approved law legalizing recreational marijuana. Don Herrington, ...