SIERRA VISTA — Local health agencies, hospitals and military and civilian personnel on Fort Huachuca are prepared to battle COVID-19 should the coronavirus find its way into Cochise County.
The virus, which originated in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, has now infected more than 90,000 people and killed over 3,000, according to figures from the World Health Organization.
Currently, there has been one confirmed case in Maricopa County, state health officials have said, and a second presumptive case. The two are not linked and the first patient has fully recovered. While a total of 26 people have been tested for the virus in Arizona, 24 of those tested negative, said Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services.
“The state is now able to run up to 450 tests daily, with results expected within one to two days,” Christ said in a statement.
Cochise County Health & Social Services (CHSS) is encouraging the public to take personal precautions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, said county public information officer Amanda Baillie.
Those precautions include:
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol—based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Stay home when you are sick.
• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
The county also has established a local helpline to answer questions and concerns, and health department staff are continuing to prepare for an effective public health response in the event of any regional cases, Baillie said.
County health officials are also recommending against using face masks. The CHSS will not be issuing face masks, Baillie said.
“The latest information indicates that face masks are not recommended for the public, only for those suspected of (having the) illness,” said CHSS Director Carrie Langley. “We strongly encourage the public to follow the advice issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Arizona Department of Health Services. COVID-19 is very much like the flu in several ways, so we ask the public to practice good hand hygiene and stay home if they are sick.
“If you are ill and need to be seen by a healthcare provider, call ahead before presenting yourself to a clinic. Symptoms include mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing.”
Baillie said CHSS will conduct regular calls and meetings with its community partners and will provide additional information to the public as it becomes available.
One of those partners is Canyon Vista Medical Center in Sierra Vista.
Hopital spokeswoman Valerie Weller said Canyon Vista also follows the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control.
“Canyon Vista Medical Center is committed to providing the highest quality care and ensuring the safety of our patients, employees, providers, volunteers and visitors,” Weller said. “We are working closely with the Cochise County Health Department and following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ensure our hospital is prepared with the appropriate plans to detect, protect and respond should anyone in our community contract or be exposed to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).”
‘Minimize the risk’
Weller said the hospital’s clinical teams are trained to “minimize the risk of spreading any infectious disease, including COVID-19.”
“If we have any reason to believe a patient may have the COVID-19, our providers immediately implement the appropriate infection control measures in accordance with CDC guidelines,” Weller said.
“These include applying a mask to the patient and implementing protective isolation measures. Staff will put on personal protective equipment (PPE) — inclusive of an N95/PAPR (Powered Air Purifying Respirators), eye protection, gown and gloves — and ensuring environmental hygiene.”
Weller added that such procedures are “standard operating protocols that are in place year-round to help ensure the health and well-being of everyone who enters our hospital.”
Hospital personnel also is equipped to collect the samples needed to run tests for COVID-19, Weller said.
“All samples are then sent to the Arizona State Public Health Laboratory (ASPHL) in Phoenix for testing,” Weller said. “This is in accordance with policies set by the Arizona Health Department.”
The U.S. Army says they are also on top of COVID-19. Personnel at Fort Huachuca, both military and civilian, are also adhering to the CDC’s guidelines, said post spokeswoman Tanja Linton.
“Fort Huachuca is taking precautionary measures to protect the health of the force and maintain operational readiness,” Linton said in an email. “We will continue to evaluate current day-to-day operations to ensure the safety of all of our soldiers, family members and civilian personnel. We encourage all personnel to follow the guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
Other local health organizations including Copper Queen Community Hospital and Chiricahua Community Health Center, did not respond to the Herald/Review by press time Tuesday.
According to the World Health Organization’s website, coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.
Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.
Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
In a portion of his remarks to reporters Tuesday, World Health Organization Director Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “While many people globally have built up immunity to seasonal flu strains, COVID-19 is a new virus to which no one has immunity. That means more people are susceptible to infection, and some will suffer severe disease.”
More information about COVID-19 can be obtained at the CHSS helpline, (833) 670-5786, Monday-Friday, from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., or at the the Centers for Disease Control website at www.nc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/warning/coronavirus-south-korea, and Arizona Department of Health website, https://www.azdhs.gov/index.php.