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Guest opinion

Stemming coronavirus outbreak in Pima County requires more public data

An effective public health campaign to slow the spread of coronavirus requires more precise information about where cases are cropping up in Pima County, virus researcher Dr. Michele Manos tells the Pima County Board of Supervisors.

A retired public health researcher and professor, Manos has studied the molecular biology and epidemiology of viruses for over 40 years. She has identified new viruses, established the role of virus infection in specific cancers, and developed viral diagnostic tests. She sent this open letter to the members of the Board of Supervisors this week:

As you know, the trajectory of COVID-19-related morbidity and mortality in Pima County will be determined, to a large degree, by the behavior of our county's residents. People of all ages, regardless of perceived risk category, must abide by recommendations to minimize the spread of infection.

Unfortunately, many people continue to disregard orders and guidelines, or they practice selective compliance.

People from different households continue to gather in close proximity, in each other's homes, outdoors, or sharing a golf cart; such interactions serve the virus by increasing opportunities for transmission.

Of great concern are the county's elderly persons who continue to gather as usual; I observe them each day in the communities of Green Valley and Sahuarita.

Public health campaigns to compel substantial behavior changes are a challenge in the best of times.

In this pandemic, we have a communication duty that defies our past experiences and battery of methods. We should continually intensify and optimize our messages. We must utilize all available information to bring about compliance with stay-at-home orders and other unfamiliar lifestyle changes that are crucial to "flatten the curve" and save the lives of community members.

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To be broadly effective, public health messages must reach people on a personal and relatable level. Our goal is to lead each person to that paramount acceptance: "This could happen to me."

We must inform and update residents of our cities, towns and communities about the known status of virus infections in their local area. It is dangerous to provide incomplete information that might foster magical thinking that SARS-CoV-2 isn't circulating in a specific community or that precautions aren't warranted.

Numbers of tests, confirmed cases, and deaths must be reported at more granular, local levels within the huge geographic expanse of Pima County. I urge you to do this for the good of the public's health.

Unfortunately, Pima County Health Department officials have argued that they must protect privacy and, therefore, cannot reveal the locations of cases or deaths. That is a counterproductive stance to choose in our current emergency. Are there directions from the state that have forced local agencies to take such a position?

I'm sure you understand that it is irresponsible to withhold information that could help compel compliance with "shelter in place" orders. Please review how important the details of the New Rochelle outbreak were to containment, and note that New York City reports data by borough.

Just yesterday I heard Green Valley residents assuring each other that there was "no virus" in the area, except in one rehabilitation center.

Green Valley is a community comprised almost exclusively of elders, many of whom have chronic diseases contributing to their risk of poor outcomes with COVID-19.

The U.S. Post Service recognizes Green Valley as a distinct entity. Why doesn't our Health Department? Ajo also includes a large portion of seniors that could similarly benefit from local data. Communities throughout the county, including Sahuarita, Oro Valley, and Marana deserve local-level information.

I implore the Board of Supervisors to require that the Pima County Health Department report community level data, and that the department take a more assertive, proactive role in ensuring compliance with public health mandates and recommendations regarding COVID-19.

A retired public health researcher and professor, Dr. Michele Manos has studied the molecular biology and epidemiology of viruses for over 40 years. She has identified new viruses, established the role of virus infection in specific cancers, and developed viral diagnostic tests.

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