PHOENIX (AP) \u2014 The Arizona Medical Association on Friday pleaded with residents to get vaccinated and boosted and take other protective steps against the coronavirus, saying that the state's health care system \u201cis buckling under the weight" of the current surge of infections. \u201cExperts are forecasting the current surge has not yet peaked, and our healthcare system cannot take much more,\u201d the statewide physician group's president, Dr. Miriam Anand, said in a statement. \u201cPatients could inevitably be turned away, unable to find the care they so desperately need." Arizona\u2019s seven-day rolling average of daily new known and confirmed coronavirus cases has quintupled in the past two weeks, rising from 2,953.6 on Dec. 29 to 16,099.3 on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Experts believe the surge is linked to the omicron variant, which spreads even more easily than other coronavirus strains. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus. However, early studies show omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous delta variant, and vaccination and a booster still offer strong protection from serious illness, hospitalization and death. Nevertheless, the sheer number of new cases is taking its toll on hospitals. The Arizona Medical Association said the large increase in COVID-19 cases \u201cis placing a tremendous strain on our health care system," resulting in record numbers of visits to hospitals' emergency departments. With hospitals statewide full or nearly so, \u201ddue to limited capacity and staffing, hospitals are being forced in and out of crisis standards of care, meaning staff must make harrowing decisions about which patients they will be able to treat,\u201d the group's statement said. \u201cAs medical professionals invested in Arizonans\u2019 health, we are pleading with the public to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, get boosted, and comply with the mitigation measures recommended by the CDC," the statement said, referring to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arizona on Friday for the third straight day reported a pandemic-high number of additional confirmed and known COVID-19 cases \u2014 20,257 \u2014 though results of many at-home COVID-19 tests aren't reported. Virus-related hospitalizations rose slightly, with 2,932 COVID-19 patients occupying inpatient beds statewide as of Thursday, according to the state's coronavirus dashboard. A day after passing the grim milestone of 25,000 known COVID-19 deaths, the state on Friday also reported 66 additional deaths.