COVID-19 in Arizona: First death reported in Santa Cruz County

PHOENIX – A 65-year-old man with underlying health conditions became the first person to die of COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County, county health officials said Tuesday.

After expressing his condolences in a statement Monday, county health director Jeff Terrell said, “COVID-19 is a dangerous disease, especially to those individuals with underlying health conditions, regardless of their age.” As of June 2, there have been 365 positive cases in Santa Cruz County, which includes Nogales, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Santa Cruz County borders the Mexican state of Sonora, where there have been 2,561 cases and 204 deaths to date. The Guardian reports the majority of the people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Sonora had recently come in contact with someone who had returned from the U.S. or other countries, according to Mexican health officials. To prevent a rapid spread at the Nogales-Mariposa border crossing last month, Nogales officials operated five “sanitizing tunnels,” where those crossing the U.S. border walk through a mist of disinfectant before entering Mexico.

Back on the U.S. side of the border, of the 1,440 COVID-19 tests conducted in Santa Cruz County to date, nearly 20% have come back positive. The infection rate in the county is 68 per 10,000 residents. For comparison, the rate in Maricopa County is 24 cases per 10,000 people.

Terrell says that although they’re not seeing the “testing blitzes” in Nogales and other parts of Santa Cruz County, access to tests has recently ramped up. He also said the high infection rate might be due to the initial limitations of their three main testing centers.

“Down here with the lack of kits, they stuck to the criteria of just testing symptomatic people,” Terrell told Cronkite News. “Now that there are more kits available, they’re starting to test asymptomatic people who may have had an exposure.”

As of Tuesday, June 2, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 21,250 cases of COVID-19 and 941 deaths in the state. It said 336,589 tests for COVID-19 have been completed as of June 2 in public and private labs in Arizona, and 5.7% of tests have come back positive for the novel coronavirus that causes the deadly disease.

New data shows COVID-19 toll on nursing homes

As of May 24, there have been 227 cases and 88 deaths due to COVID-19 at Arizona nursing homes, according to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Although the rate of cases and deaths for the state is lower than the national average, the rate of staff members testing positive for COVID-19 is more than three times higher in Arizona.

Nationally, there are 39.5 staff cases per 1,000 nursing home residents, while there are 135.6 staff cases per 1,000 nursing home residents in Arizona. Although the data has some limitations and excludes assisted living facilities, the center has announced that more detailed information will be released this week.

Navajo Nation outlines plans for spending relief funds

Navajo leaders are developing a comprehensive plan on how to use the $600 million the tribe received from the federal CARES Act. President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer have outlined specific causes and development opportunities they intend to fund, including supplying PPE, expanding broadband and providing scholarships for students going into health care and public safety fields. Weak water infrastructure has been a longstanding problem on the reservation, where residents have struggled to keep up with frequent handwashing recommendations. Half the $600 million allocation will be directed toward water infrastructure and agriculture projects.

Mesa expands restaurant dine-in options

Restaurants in Mesa have been given the green light to expand their dining service to outdoor areas. The City Council announced that restaurants now can apply to reopen these areas after approval from their landlord and compliance with state social distancing guidelines.

ASU researchers say a saliva test is on the horizon

Researchers from Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute say they have developed Arizona’s first saliva-based test for COVID-19, according to ASU Now. Josh LaBaer, the director of the institute, said researchers wanted to develop another method of testing that isn’t as complicated for medical providers and not as uncomfortable for patients as nasal swabs. In addition, the test is self-administered, which will make the process easier and cheaper.

“You can almost imagine passing out these tubes to people at their desks. They can collect it in their own offices and then bring it to a collection site where they’re kept … and then turn them in for the testing,” LaBaer said in a May 26 interview with Arizona Horizon. With fall semester slated to begin Aug. 20, LaBaer said the institute is thinking of ways to roll out testing to accommodate more than 70,000 students.

How to help

The SciTech Institute has compiled an extensive collection of educational resources for K-12 students to continue learning while at home during the pandemic. These lessons include activities on STEM topics, virtual field trips and the humanities. The institute is accepting donations for their Science for All initiative, which prepares students for future careers in STEM/STEAM fields in over 150 low-income schools across the state. To donate, visit their page.

News Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Allie Barton is a master’s student who expects to graduate in December 2020. As a News21 fellow, she wrote, filmed and produced multimedia stories about natural disaster recovery in the U.S. Barton also worked as a producer for “Catalyst” at Arizona PBS.