Eight City of Nogales employees attended an event in Rio Rico last week with a person who later tested positive for COVID-19, according to city officials.

The employees were all from the public works department and Director Alejandro Barcenas said the eight were sent home on Wednesday, after the city received notification that one person at the meeting, who had traveled from Phoenix, had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Barcenas and Mayor Arturo Garino said they didn’t know if the city employees were being tested for the virus, but Barcenas said he wasn’t aware of any employees exhibiting symptoms of the infection.

The March 10 meeting was held at the Rio Rico Community Center at 391 Avenida Coatimundi and was attended by 40-50 people, Barcenas said. It included presentations by an organization that marks utilities before digging projects.

That organization could not be reached by telephone and its media contact did not immediately respond to the NI’s request for more information.

County Health Services Director Jeff Terrell said Thursday that his department “is aware of the incident and we are looking into it,” adding that county employees did not attend the training.

As of Thursday morning, the Arizona Department of Health Services had not reported any positive tests for COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County. On Wednesday, a representative of Mariposa Community Health Center said that MCHC had sent “several” samples to a commercial lab for COVID-19 testing, though it wasn’t clear if those tests were related to the Rio Rico meeting.

Municipal measures

The City of Nogales also announced new measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic in a news release dated March 19.

City-operated gyms have been closed, computers were moved farther apart from each other at the library and the city sent information about the COVID-19 virus to some local households, according to the release.

“The City of Nogales is working closely with Santa Cruz County and taking proactive measures to help flatten the curve of COVID-19,” the release stated. “The safety and wellbeing of city residents remains the priority.”

The release simply stated that “the city closed all gyms,” but in a follow-up conversation, Garino clarified that the closure only applied to the two city gyms at the recreation center on Hohokam Drive and by the Nogales Housing Authority apartment complex on Western Avenue.

Several commercial gyms have already closed in-person operations including the Speed Up spinning studio and CrossFit Tutuli.

City Manager Eddie Johnson said the city housing authority had mailed out information the Centers for Disease Control and American Association of Retired Persons in English and Spanish to 189 households where the head of household is over the age of 60.

In a phone conversation on Thursday morning, the mayor added that he was working on guidelines for restaurants that would include recommendations – but not orders – to limit the number of people inside restaurants to 10 or fewer and prioritize takeout service.

He said he had received lots of calls asking about the city’s response to the situation, but didn’t want to force businesses to close doors.

“We need to be calm about it,” Garino said.

The city also “implemented models of social distancing” at offices, including guidelines for standing distance at utility payment windows and taking steps to “minimize public interaction” at the housing authority waiting room, the March 19 news release said.

The city manager told directors to send sick employees home and suspended non-essential business travel, the release said.

“During this time of uncertainty, city officials strongly advise residents to seek information from well-regarded sources such as the Santa Cruz County Health Department, the Arizona Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the release states. “The city will continue to monitor the situation and will share critical information as quickly as possible.”

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