Cave Creek, Arizona, on May 11.

REUTERS/Nicole Neri/File Photo

Arizona has emerged a new coronavirus hot spot, with more than 4,400 new cases from Friday through Sunday.

The accelerating spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, is “directly related” to the state’s easing of coronavirus restrictions, Will Humble, the former director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said.

Twenty-five states and Puerto Rico have seen infections increase by at least 10% in the past two weeks.

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In early June, just two weeks after Arizona lifted its stay-at-home order, the state began to see a new surge in coronavirus cases.

Now it’s a new center for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. 

“It’s spreading like wildfire,” Rep. Greg Stanton, an Arizona Democrat, said on social media Sunday. “Arizona is the new national hotspot for COVID-19 with more than 4,400 new cases in just the last 72 hours. Per capita, Arizona’s infection rate is now more than three times higher than New York state.” 

By Sunday, Arizona’s infection rate reached 60.5 per 100,000 people, compared with New York’s 12.5 per 100,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The Grand Canyon State had more than 37,500 cases as of Sunday.

Will Humble, the former director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said last week that the surge in new cases was “definitely related” to the lifted stay-at-home order.

While the order was still in place, about 5% of statewide COVID-19 tests were positive. By early June, the rate more than doubled to 12%. The state doesn’t require people to wear masks.

“This is not an abstract number of cases,” Dr. Peter Hotez, the dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told NPR. “We’re seeing people pile into intensive care units.” Banner Health, the largest hospital in the state, also said its ICUs were “very busy” in a statement last week.

“Arizona’s COVID-19 hospitalizations are rapidly increasing,” Banner Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Marjorie Bessel said. “As of June 4, there were 1,234 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. About 50% of those patients are hospitalized in Banner Health facilities.” 

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The increase in hospitalizations could strain healthcare centers, which have continued to do elective surgeries.

“It’s very unfortunate because hospitals right now in Arizona are quite busy with elective procedures,” Saskia Popescu, a Phoenix-based epidemiologist with George Mason University, told NPR. “You throw in increasing cases of COVID and that’s going to very much stress your hospital systems.”

The surge in Arizona cases tracks closely with a quickly growing number of cases across Southern and Southwestern states. Twenty-five states and Puerto Rico have seen cases increase 10% over the past two weeks, NBC News reported.

Upward trends are most severe in Arizona, Nevada, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, South Carolina, and Florida, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

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