National Guard Troops help with COVID testing at the Santa Cruz County Complex July 25. 930 tests were performed the first weekend of testing. Photo courtesy Santa Cruz County

In June, Santa Cruz County (SCC) experienced an extraordinary rate of infection and high positivity rate in testing, and became the county with the highest in both in the state. Arizona became a national hotspot and at one point had the highest rate of infection in the whole world, according to the New York Times. 

Local officials successfully petitioned Gov. Ducey to let the county mandate masks in public places. By June 21 mask ordinances were in effect for the county, city of Nogales and town of Patagonia. Though SCC continues to have a high rate of infections and positivity rate, our daily average of new cases went down from 48 in June to 25.7 in July. 

To address the high positivity rate, the county was able to advocate for funds from the state to administer testing blitzes in Nogales, Rio Rico and Patagonia, but the state has been slow to release the funds it has received from the CDC to the county. The testing blitzes have gone ahead anyway, because local officials have decided that they cannot wait for the state. They expect the state funds to refund the over $1 million in expenses. 

The other challenge of the testing has been the slow turnaround from the labs for results, sometimes taking up to ten days. Thus, the county purchased 5000 test kits from a lab in Tucson named Paradigm to ensure a quick turnaround in results, according to Jeff Terrell, the Director of Enviromental Health Services at the county. On July 25 and 26 the county tested 930 people in Nogales, advising them to stay isolated until they receive their test result within 72 hours. Rio Rico and Patagonia will host testing blitzes on July 31 and Aug 1. 

The other marker that has gone up is the fatality rate in the county. Compared to the state’s fatality rate at 45.96 per 100,000 population the county is at 92.1 as of July 27. The number of deaths has increased from one death on June 1 to 49 deaths on July 27. 

Dr. Eladio Pereira, Chief Medical Officer at the Mariposa Community Health Center, explained that he suspects that the rise in fatality rate is a consequence of the spike in cases in June. It takes about two weeks after onset of symptoms before those who are severely ill need to be hospitalized. Because of better treatments now available, many of those who are hospitalized recover. However, those who are already vulnerable often get secondary complications and can have much longer hospital stays and may succumb to the illness, said Dr. Pereira.

“If people continue to adhere to the precautions and our rate of infection continues to stabilize and reduce, then we should see the fatality rate go down as well,” said Dr. Perei.