December 2, 2020
By Sarah Klingenstein

The rising number of COVID cases in the County and State have sent Patagonia School District students back to distance learning for the foreseeable future. The district joins most others in Santa Cruz County who have recently closed campuses. The Patagonia Union High School campus had closed three weeks previously after two students tested positive for the virus. Now the entire Pre-K – 12 student body will work from home, with the exception of students needing to come into the safe room. In a recent letter to families, Supt. Kenny Hayes requested of those planning to send their children to the safe room, “If you are having a large family gathering or traveling during the Thanksgiving break please keep your student home for 14 days after you get home instead of sending them into the safe room. This will be on the honor system and we hope you respect the safety of the students and staff that occupy the safe room.” As the PRT goes to print, the Elgin School and Patagonia Montessori School are still holding in-person classes.

Confirmed COVID cases in the County reached 3970 by Dec. 1, while the number of cases statewide was at 337,139 according to the AZ Dept. of Health. According to Jeff Terrell, Santa Cruz County Health Director, the county has re-deployed staff to follow up on new cases and is being assisted in its efforts by contact tracing staff at the state level. “We pass the information to them and they follow up. It’s critical that people are willing to share all the information needed to let others know if they may have been exposed.”

Fernando Silvas, Santa Cruz County epidemiologist, told the PRT, “People appear to be surprised by this surge, but we’ve known it was coming.” Both he and Terrell believe that people seem to have become lackadaisical about social distancing. Terrell observed, “It’s not like in some of the more populated areas, where contact is made in bars or gyms. In our county, it’s more likely to be a casual get-together or, what we’re most concerned about right now, a holiday dinner.” Both officials will be watching the numbers carefully the first week of December, when the impacts from Thanksgiving gatherings will appear.

As of Dec. 1, there were only 189 adult intensive care beds available statewide, 11% of the total of 1757 ICU beds. According to Terrell, people in Santa Cruz County who need to be hospitalized with COVID go to hospitals in Pima County, along with residents of three other counties, Cochise, Greenlee and Graham. The state of COVID-19 care in Pima County, therefore, affects us directly. In an interview with KVOA on Nov. 23, Pima County Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen reported that ICU beds in Pima County were nearing capacity, and that the number of open beds was “in the single digits.”

Marjorie Bessel, Chief Clinical Officer for Banner Health, quoted in an article on the website azbigmedia.com, said “projections show that system will be using 125% of its licensed hospital beds by Dec. 4 as it grapples with the usual winter rise in patients and the sudden spike in COVID-19 cases in Arizona. She compared the [Thanksgiving] holiday weekend to Memorial Day weekend, when unrestricted gatherings were followed by a sharp spike in coronavirus cases. And staffing to attend to patients in the ICU is in high demand. And whereas we were one of only several states experiencing a surge in June, now most states have increasing COVID rates, making it much harder to find healthcare workers to come into our hospitals.”

Terrell said the State has been reviewing its surge planning for increasing hospital capacity and staffing. He continues to recommend that residents wear masks, wash hands often, and only go out to stores as necessary, and that people take advantage of increased testing capacity. Contact the County Health Department, Mariposa Clinic, Holy Cross Hospital or Nextcare to be tested if you think you have been exposed to COVID-19. Test results have been available between 24 and 36 hours after testing, though that may change with an uptick in illness and demand for testing.

Kathryn Schrag, a retired nurse-midwife and family nurse-practitioner and PRT Board member, has offered a set of guidelines. “Living is not risk free, and life during a pandemic carries risk that we cannot completely eliminate,” Schrag wrote. “Now is the time to have frank conversations with family and friends about whether and how you will gather.” Considerations to discuss include:

• Who is on the potential guest list: how medically vulnerable are the guests, how prevalent is the rate of infection in their community and how much Covid-19 exposure risk each person has in their day to day life?

• Is everyone on board with agreeing to expectations regarding safe behavior at the gathering? Before guests arrive, be clear with them about your house practices concerning COVID, and remind them that if they are sick to please not come (while remembering that about 50% of cases are transmitted without the person having symptoms).

• Are guests willing and able to take precautions for at least a week prior to the event or, to be most cautious, self-quarantine for two weeks?

• Be cautious about being reassured by a negative Covid-19 test; when and how to test is complicated.

• How will the guests travel: private car, bus, airplane and, if coming from a long distance, where will they spend the night(s)?

• How many households will gather and how large a group (experts recommend no more than 6-10 people with two households)?

• Consider wearing masks when not eating and drinking.