If it seems like there is a lot of Covid around, that’s because there is. And there are also more flu and RSV infections.
Santa Cruz County (SCC) is one of six counties in Arizona that had high levels of Covid community spread on Dec. 1. In a recent interview with the PRT, SCC Health Department Director Jeff Terrell said the increases in respiratory infections are to be expected this time of year as people celebrate the holidays with more travel and large indoor gatherings. Also, unlike the past two years, fewer people are wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, two mitigating precautions against the viruses that cause Covid, flu, and RSV. The spike in Covid cases in the two weeks after Thanksgiving has leveled off but Terrell expected another spike after Christmas.
It’s hard to know exactly how much Covid is actually in the community. Fernando Silvas, Public Health Emergency Preparedness Manager for SCC, crunches the Covid numbers for the County. He told the PRT that most new Covid cases are not reported due to the accessibility of home testing and the fact that more people who have already had Covid or have been vaccinated may have milder infections with fewer or no symptoms. He also said many people are in denial about Covid and don’t test.
With those caveats in mind, Santa Cruz County had 630 new cases reported between Nov. 1 and Dec. 20. Patagonia/Sonoita/Elgin had 30 of the reported cases in that time period. That number compares to 10 reported cases in the prior two-month period. Silvas said every reported case represents, conservatively, at least an additional two to three cases and maybe more.
Two other factors suggest that the number of reported cases is much lower than actual incidence of Covid. 37% of reported Covid tests were positive in SCC, second highest in the state. Anything above a 10% positive rate suggests that increased prevention measures are warranted. A more accurate reflection of the amount of Covid in a community is Covid-related hospitalizations. Since Nov. 1, there have been 19 people hospitalized for Covid in SCC, with only one from the Patagonia-Sonoita-Elgin area. 68% of these hospitalizations were people aged 65 and over as compared to 23% of total cases that were people 65 and over.
Santa Cruz County has one of the highest initial vaccination rates in the state. The State Health Department reports 95% of people in Santa Cruz County have received at least the initial two shots. Silva suggested that percentage is somewhat inflated as there are people who are vaccinated in SCC but live elsewhere; he said 70% to 80% seems more realistic. A much smaller percentage of people in Santa Cruz County have received boosters. The protection afforded by the initial round of vaccinations is waning as time passes and new variants continue to appear. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends booster shots for everyone over six months, particularly for those at higher risk of severe disease, which includes seniors and people with compromised immune responses.
Kenny Hayes, Superintendent of the Patagonia Unified School District, reported an increase in Covid, flu, and RSV cases. As a result, the district moved its Fall Festival and Winter Concert to virtual events. Students are already in pods to limit their exposure and the district has instituted heightened social distancing procedures. “There is not much else we can do,” said Hayes. He expected another spike when students return from Christmas break.
Dr. Molly Anderson at the Mariposa Family Health Center in Patagonia reported a high level of Covid community transmission in Santa Cruz County. It is advisable to she said. Anderson recommends wearing a mask when you are indoors around other people, and doing a home Covid-19 test before any indoor gatherings. If you feel sick, even if your test is negative, stay home.
If you are over 50, or if you are younger, but smoke or have diabetes, lung disease, rheumatologic diseases or any other immunosuppressive disorder, you should have had the Covid bivalent booster by now. Boosters are available at Mariposa Clinic in Nogales by appointment (520-281-1550). Also, if you are in one of these high-risk groups mentioned above, Anderson encourages you to get treated for Covid at the onset of symptoms, even if those symptoms are mild. Call your physician to request a prescription for an oral antiviral medication.