Even as the County receives and administers vaccines, the virus continues to infect record numbers of area residents. The month of January saw Arizona having the highest per capita rates for new infections in the country and Santa Cruz County having the highest rate in the state. 

Dr. Eladio Pereira, Chief Medical Officer for Mariposa Community Health Center, continues to recommend that all residents act as if they are positive for COVID. “If your mindset is such, you will do the right things. You will stay home as much as you can, not have company over, keep your distance, and always wear a proper mask.” Dr. Pereira advises that a lot is still unknown about how and when we will be able relax our vigilance around this virus, even after many people are vaccinated.

New variants, such as the UK variant, appear to spread between 30% and 70% more easily than the original virus, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19. Currently, it is unknown whether any of the new variants cause more severe illness or increased risk of death, though that has not yet been seen. However, any increase in the number of cases will put more strain on health care resources, lead to more hospitalizations, and potentially more deaths. 

Recent reports that morgues in Tucson are full and that refrigerated trucks have been brought in to store the bodies of those who have died highlight the fact that our ability to handle this crisis is being stretched to the limit. Now, perhaps more than ever, rigorous or increased compliance with public health mitigation strategies, such as vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential to protecting public health.

To protect ourselves and those around us, the Center for Disease Control and Johns Hopkins Health, among others, have identified several factors that make mask-wearing more effective:

• Wear a mask of two layers at least; three is even better. 

• Wear a mask made of breathable but tightly woven fabric, but NOT fabric you can see through or blow out a candle through. (Johns Hopkins does not allow neck gaiters in its facilities. If you choose to wear a neck gaiter, double it up.)

• Non-medical disposable masks that fit snugly with no large gaps are also effective. Bandannas are not effective. The effect of plastic face shields is still being evaluated. 

• Do not wear a mask with an exhalation valve or vent. They still allow you to spread the virus.

• Masks must be worn over both the mouth and nose to protect you and others.

• Do not wear a vinyl mask. It does not allow healthy breathing.

For more information, go to cdc.gov.