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3rd coronavirus case diagnosed in Pima County

A third person in Pima County has been diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus, officials said Sunday morning.

The person, described as an "older adult," is recovering in an area hospital, officials said.

"The Health Department immediately began an investigation to identify close contacts and recommend actions to prevent further spread," said spokesman Aaron Pacheco.

The diagnosis is the first positive test result in Pima County that was performed in a private commercial lab, he said. A sample is also being sent to the Arizona State Public Health Laboratory.

"In order to protect the health information and privacy of this individual no further potentially identifying information (like sex, hospital, area of residency, condition, etc.) can be provided by the Health Department," Pacheco said.

As of Sunday morning, Arizona state health officials report 12 other positive cases, mostly in Maricopa and Pinal counties.

As of Sunday morning, 183 people in Arizona have been tested for COVID-19 — the novel coronavirus that was first diagnosed in people late last year — with 12 confirmed positive cases and and the new "presumptive positive" Pima case the only ones in the state. Another 50 tests were pending results, and 121 people have been ruled out, officials said.

Previously, cases tested in Arizona and other states were being deemed "presumptively positive," with test samples being sent to the CDC for further confirmation.

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Arizona health authorities said Saturday that under a new testing protocol, samples must no longer be shipped to the federal lab for further testing. The state is now listing all positive COVID-19 tests as simply "positive," without a diffentiation between "presumptive" results.

Friday, second person in Pima County was announced as having been "presumptively diagnosed" with COVID-19 and undergoing treatment at a local hospital.

Monday, officials announced that the first Pima County resident had been presumptively diagnosed with COVID-19. The patient, who had recently traveled to an area with "community spread," is "not severely ill" and is recovering at home.

Dr. Bob England, director of the Pima County Health Department, said Friday evening that "there doesn't appear to be any link between" the two earlier Pima cases. "Again, if you've got a disease where you're only able to test the sickest folks and you've got a lot of mild cases for each really sick person then you could have transmission from person to person to person, that you don't see, that links the two cases. But, we have no way of knowing that at this point."

Arizona health emergency declared

Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Ducey declared a "public health emergency" prompted by the COVID-19 outbreak, allowing the state to request federal funds and deal with medical price-gouging.

"While our state is not currently facing the number of cases we've seen in some other states, we are anticipating additional positive cases — and we're not taking any chances," Ducey said in announcing his emergency declaration. "Arizonans should not panic — our approach will be calm and steady."

Ducey also ordered insurance companies to cover out-of-network providers and cover 100 percent of the cost for coronavirus care. He also announced that nursing homes and elder care facilities will begin implementing new visitor policies and enhanced symptom checks for staff members and visitors.

Ducey and Christ, speaking at a news conference Wednesday afternoon, downplayed suggestions that large gatherings be banned.

"At this time we are not recommending canceling mass gatherings in Arizona," Christ said. "So we are working right now with the CDC on brand-new community mitigation guidance that they just put out and we are not at a point where we would recommend those type of things, but we are constantly evaluating to see if those measures do take sense, but at this time we're not."

'Focus on protecting the vulnerable'

"I want you to think about three things that are our most important messages," county Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia said Monday. "Number one, this is the time to optimize your health and the health of your family. People who are healthy get over this virus, people who are unhealthy, or who are frail, who are elderly may have a harder time and it may have a more serious consequence," he said. 

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And, he said that people need to "focus on protecting the vulnerable." 

"The vulnerable are the same vulnerable that are impacted every year during the flu season — these are our elders and medically frail individuals," he said, adding that they should stay our from crowds, including cruise ships and airplanes. "These folks need to be cocooned so that we can maintain their health," he said. 

Garcia also said that the city and county should "settle-in for a long-term response," which includes making sure that employers allow people to stay home when they're sick. 

England who also dealt with the county's response during the H1N1 outbreak  in 2009, said that there hadn't been a positive result in Pima County, "but it really doesn't matter because it's going to be here, and it's going to transmit locally," he said. "and we need to begin treating it in that way as if we're expecting it." 

"This is probably going to feel to us like a bad flu season, so just as we lose tens of thousands of Americans each and every year to the flu," COVID-19 "will tragically kill many people," said England. "There's no getting around that, but that' going to be something that we've all experienced every year because we go through the flu season every year," he said.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Dr. Francisco Garcia, the chief medical officer in the county, speaks to the media during a press conference on Monday.

Preventing the spread of coronavirus

From the Pima County Health Department: COVID-19 spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Symptoms are thought to appear within 2 to 14 days after exposure and consist of fever, cough, runny nose, or difficulty breathing. Those considered at highest risk for contracting the virus are individuals with travel to an area where the virus is spreading, or individuals in close contact with a person who is diagnosed as having COVID-19.

The best ways to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including COVID-19, are to:

  • 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.
  • 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 immediately throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Public health officials advise residents that flu and other respiratory diseases are circulating in the community, and are recommending everyone get a flu shot and follow basic prevention guidelines.

If you have recently traveled to an area where COVID-19 is circulating, and have developed fever with cough or shortness of breath within 14 days of your travel, or have had contact with someone who is suspected to have 2019 novel coronavirus, please stay home. Most people with COVID-19 develop mild symptoms. If you have mild symptoms, please do not seek medical care, but do stay home and practice social distancing from others in the household where possible. If you do have shortness of breath or more severe symptoms, please call your health care provider to get instructions before arriving.