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3rd Az coronavirus case is hospitalized woman; Officials state no positive tests in Pima County

'Stay home if you're sick' - Local health officials

A third Arizona resident has been "presumptively" diagnosed with COVID-19 — a woman who has been hospitalized. Pima County officials said Friday that no tests here have been positive for the coronavirus, firmly pushing back against rumors that a patient here has been diagnosed.

Health officials did not release many details about the third patient in the state. The woman is a healthcare worker and a resident of Pinal County. She is being treated in a Phoenix-area hospital. The woman, who works in Maricopa County, has not had any contact with any confirmed coronavirus cases, officials said.

Local health department officials encouraged residents to "be alert, but not anxious," while acknowledging that a coronavirus case is likely to occur in Pima County.

A second Arizona resident was "presumptively" diagnosed earlier this week. Those cases have been sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control for confirmation, health officials said. That case is a 20-year-old Maricopa County man who was "not hospitalized and is recovering at home," officials said Tuesday.

No positive coronavirus tests in Pima County

Friday, Pima County officials said that while there have been some patients tested here, there have not been any confirmed or presumptive positive COVID-19 tests here.

"There is no current positive test for coronavirus in Pima County," chief county spokesman Mark Evans said flatly, pushing back at rumors circulating that a patient at a Tucson hospital has been diagnosed.

Saying he had confirmed his information with county Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia and Dr. Bob England, interim director of the Pima County Health Department, Evans said that there have been no presumptive positive tests here, either.

Tests done at the state level are being confirmed with another test by the CDC if they are presumptively positive, officials have said.

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'Be alert, not anxious' & 'Stay home if you're sick'

Pima County officials downplayed any thought of closing schools and calling off events here.

"There have been calls by some in our community to close schools, shutter businesses, or cancel events because of the mere threat of the virus coming to Pima County, not just when (and it's likely going to be when, not if) there is a confirmed case here," said County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry in a memo of the Board of Supervisors. "Doing so will only cause severe economic and social disruption beyond what we will already experience and will have little to no effect on containing the spread of this virus."

"We do not close schools due to the flu, and we are going through a pretty bad flu season currently, and we should not close schools and the like for COVID-19," he said.

Huckelberry said the county is "prepared for changes as the situation evolves."

Seven regional health providers joined Pima County in issuing a joint statement late Friday afternoon, urging a measured public response to the coronavirus.

'One of the worst things we can do is over-react.'

"Though the virus is quite contagious, the vast majority of infections are mild – sometimes asymptomatic – and not typically lethal (deadly). COVID-19 is most dangerous for many of the same people who are most at risk for the flu: older adults and those with chronic disease," said the statement, which was backed by Tucson Medical Center, Carondelet Health Network, University of Arizona Health Sciences Center, Arizona Community Physicians, El Rio Health, Marana Health Center and Desert Senita Community Health Center.

The health care providers supported the county's position on closing schools and calling off events.

"One of the worst things we can do is over-react," Pima County's Dr. England said in a video update posted on Facebook. "COVID- 19, once it's widespread, will feel to all of us something like a bad flu season."

"It's really contagious, it'll spread among us, but only certain people are most likely to get into severe trouble from it," he said. "Same as with the flu: older adults, people with chronic heart and lung disease, people with diabetes, are the most at risk."

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"The best thing we can do to protect the most vulnerable is to do the things we all know already to slow down the spread of that virus: Wash your hands frequently, keep your hands away from your face, avoid sick people if you can," he said.

"And stay home if you're sick," he emphasized. "Please don't go to work and don't send your kids to school if you're sick."

In Scottsdale, a four-person fire crew and two-person ambulance crew who responded to the presumptive positive test earlier this week have been told to follow "social distancing guidelines" and isolate themselves for 12-14 days. One of those firefighters has been cleared to return to work, with the other five still in isolation but not showing any symptoms, officials said.

"The COVID-19 outbreak is rapidly evolving and based on events in other states, we expect additional cases and community spread in Arizona," Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said in a news release Friday.

"Keeping Arizonans safe and healthy is our number-one priority and we are confident the public health system in Arizona is well prepared to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak," Christ said.

How the female patient contracted the virus is yet unknown, officials said.

The case earlier this week "is a known contact of a presumed positive case outside of Arizona who had traveled to an area with community spread of COVID-19," state health department officials said.

"The good news is that this individual is in stable condition and is expected to have a full recovery, as are most people who become infected with this disease," said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director of disease control for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.

The State Public Health Lab began testing for COVID-19 on Monday and was able to detect this positive case on its first day of testing, the same day that Maricopa County Department of Public Health officials asked that this individual be tested.

The first case of coronavirus in Arizona was determined in late January. That patient, described by officials as a "member of the Arizona State University community," has recovered and is no longer infected with the disease.

As of Friday morning, 51 people in Arizona have been tested for COVID-19 — the novel coronavirus that was first diagnosed in people late last year — with the single confirmed positive case in January, and two "presumptive positive" case the only cases in the state. Another 15 tests were pending results, and 33 people have been ruled out, officials said.

The virus has caused the deaths of at least six people in the United States, with more than 3,000 deaths worldwide.

COVID-19 is believed to spread mostly through respiratory droplets produced when a sick person coughs or sneezes. Signs and symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The best way to prevent COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases is to:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • 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 using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water is not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Increased testing for coronavirus – Arizona officials can now check up to 450 samples daily – could reveal more diagnoses, Christ said Monday. But that is to be expected, she cautioned, and doesn’t necessarily mean coronavirus is worsening. Also, several samples can come from one person.

In response to a question about preparation on Monday, Christ and Ducey said they are not stockpiling food or water. Christ also advised against buying masks but urged people to take safety precautions by washing hands for at least 20 seconds, coughing into tissues and staying home from work or school if sick. The elderly and people with medical conditions are most at risk from the respiratory disease, with symptoms that mimic influenza and are spread person-to-person.

Still, she said, the fact the disease is spreading beyond those who had been exposed during travel to high-risk areas, particularly China, shows the need to remain alert. Arizona public health officials are working with K-12 schools, universities, health facilities and others to protect the public.

Christ urged businesses to create backup plans, such as coming up with an alternate list of suppliers and determining how they will operate with a reduced workforce or without key employees.

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Officials understand that reports of the disease soaring across the globe “can cause fear and anxiety about how we can keep ourselves and our loved ones safe,” said Christ, who has three children.

Until recently, all samples of coronavirus had to be sent to the Centers for Disease Control for testing. Arizona is one of about a dozen states and cities that can test for coronavirus. The Department of Health Services had previously sent 26 potential cases to federal  health officials for tests. One sample tested positive, 24 were cleared and two were waiting on lab results.

The spread of COVID-19 has led to the U.S. instituting travel bans, advisories and new policies for entry into the country and international travel. The U.S. has banned entry into the U.S. by foreign nationals who have traveled to China or Iran, and travel advisories have been issued for parts of Italy and South Korea.

Cronkite News reporter Dzevida Sadikovic contributed to this report.

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