Cases of COVID-19 have risen rapidly in Arizona, in Santa Cruz County, and in Patagonia throughout the month of December. For the first time, new daily cases in Santa Cruz County (SCC) have surpassed the highest reported during the early summer surge, with 125 new cases reported on Christmas Day. Currently, over one in 10 people in the County has tested positive for COVID19. One in 1,000 Americans have died from the virus.
As the PRT goes to press, Arizona has the 2nd highest new case rate in the U.S. andSCC remains in the top three counties with the highest rates in Arizona.In eastern SCC, as of Dec. 31, the AZ Dept. of Health Services reported a total of 39 cases in Patagonia, 20 cases in Sonoita, and 17 cases in Elgin.
According to Jeff Terrell, Santa Cruz County Health Director, the COVID19 spread has developed, as predicted a month ago, when Thanksgiving gatherings caused the virus to spread. Likewise, health officials expect further increases one-and-a-half to two weeks after Christmas. Terrell said that the Health Department, through its contact tracing, has not identified any large events that have caused the spread, that it seems to be brought home by one member of a family, then spread to spouses, siblings, etc.
Statewide, COVID19 cases reached 520,207 on Dec. 31. The State Schools Dashboard lists all counties in Arizona as experiencing substantial transmission and recommends virtual learning statewide for the time being. Terrell reported that most county school districts are treating the first two full weeks of January as a defacto quarantine period for their staff and students.
This outlook is exemplified by a letter sent to Elgin Elementary School families. “(We) will be returning to Distance Learning for one week following the scheduled Winter Break… Our concern is that if families travel and/ or participate in holiday get-togethers and contract the virus, they would likely develop symptoms after returning to school during the week of Jan. 4. By proactively closing the school for ‘face-to-face’ for one week, we are hoping to avoid spreading the virus in the school setting and avoid a much longer school closure.”
Patagonia Schools will use the distance learning model until Jan. 18 at the earliest. The decision to bring students back on campus will be made as that period ends.
Vaccines on the Way
On Dec. 2, Governor Doug Ducey announced that COVID19 vaccines would be available without cost to all Arizonans. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses.
On Dec. 28, Terrell reported that 600 doses of the Moderna vaccine had already arrived at the Mariposa Clinic in Nogales. Another shipment of 900 doses was expected any day. For now, information about vaccine delivery will be available to Health Department officials only about a week ahead of delivery. Within the next several weeks, they hope to have vaccine delivery schedules laid out for several months ahead.
The first vaccines are being administered to people that fall into the CDC’s and Arizona’s “1A” priority category, which includes healthcare providers, emergency medical personnel and the residents and staff of long-term care facilities. Those in Group 1A number around 1,000 in the county, so the first vaccine shipments are expected to cover that high-risk portion of the population. According to Terrell, Mariposa Clinic has been tasked with administration of the early phases of the vaccine, which they are administering throughout various County facilities.
Dr. Eladio Pereira, Chief Medical Officer at the Mariposa Clinic, said that officials are currently working through the logistics of the rollout. “We are learning and revising strategies daily, and working in collaboration with the County and State, as well as other human services agencies.”
“We will move to the ‘1B’ group as soon as we receive enough vaccines to move on,” Dr. Pereira said. That group includes “frontline essential workers such as fire fighters, police officers, corrections officers, food and agricultural workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers and those who work in the educational sector (teachers, support staff, and daycare workers.) It also includes people aged 75 years and older.” To learn which group you fit into, call (602) 542-1025 and select Option 1, or go to: https://www.santacruzcountyaz.gov/732/COVID-19-Novel-Coronavirus
In this initial phase, health officials are identifying those who qualify for the vaccine. Eventually, residents will be able to seek out the vaccine and sign up for appointments online. Information regarding vaccine availability for Groups 1C and beyond will be found in the coming weeks and months on the SCC Health Department’s website. Plans are being made to develop vaccine PODS (Points of Distribution) around the County once the supply of vaccines increases dramatically. Potential sites include the Sonoita Fairgrounds and a site in Patagonia.
Editor’s note: On Dec. 30, Governor Ducey issued an executive order for the state to take a more active role in vaccination planning and distribution. The PRT will update our readers as these changes develop, and link to a planned State website that will show daily vaccination progress and information for individuals.