A fourth person from Santa Cruz County has tested positive for COVID-19, the county Health Services Department announced Friday.
As with the three previous cases confirmed in the county, the person was said to have traveled to an area where community transmission is present.
They are now “recovering well at home,” according to a news release.
The department did not release any other information specific to the patient, though its aggregate data reporting shows that of the community's four confirmed infections, three were detected in women and one in a man. One person was between the ages of 20 and 44, two were between 45 and 64, and one was 65 or older.
The county’s first positive COVID-19 test was reported on March 19, the second on March 25 and the third on March 31. Jeff Terrell, the county’s health services director, said in an email Friday that those three people are now symptom-free and out of isolation.
Asked in a follow-up question whether that meant they could still transmit the virus, Terrell pointed to a statement from the Center for Disease Control that “Someone who has been released from isolation is not considered to pose a risk of infection to others.”
The number of confirmed cases is unlikely to represent the true number of infections in a given community, since many people infected with the coronavirus show mild or moderate symptoms, and relatively few people are being tested for it.
Data released by the Arizona Department of Health Services on Friday morning, before the fourth local case was announced, showed that 73 people in Santa Cruz County had been definitively tested for the disease, with 70 of those tests coming back negative. The number of pending tests was not available.
Dr. Eladio Pereira, chief medical officer at the Mariposa Community Health Center, told the NI during an interview earlier on Friday that a big reason so many people test negative is that most respiratory symptoms are not related to COVID-19.
“There are other viral illnesses that mimic coronavirus,” he said, citing symptoms such as sore throat, runny nose, fever and cough.
On March 25, ADHS Director Dr. Cara Christ issued guidelines for the state’s primary care providers that discouraged them from testing for COVID-19 in “most patients,” citing the limited number of tests available.
Pereira said that MCHC, which has health clinics in Nogales, Rio Rico, Tubac and Patagonia, is testing people who have symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath, and have been exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 case. There are also certain occupations – health care worker, critical infrastructure employee (e.g. water, electric and gas utilities) and long-term care providers – that are seen as high priorities for testing.
“We are testing because coronavirus is so widespread and so transmissible. But I think that it’s expected that most people tested will be negative because coronavirus is not responsible for a majority of respiratory infections,” Pereira said.
In Arizona, there were 1,769 total confirmed COVID-19 cases and 41 deaths as of Friday morning. On Thursday, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus topped 1 million worldwide, and the number of people dead had surpassed 50,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Noting the gravity of the pandemic, Pereira emphasized that people in Santa Cruz County need to get serious about following stay-at-home and social distancing guidelines.
“It’s really essential that, in the next few weekends as Easter closes in, that people need to stay home. This is very serious,” he said.
“This virus spreads person to person, and this is what we see: people still traveling and doing stupid things,” Pereira said. “It’s incredible, we’ve been at this for a month and we still have people doing stuff that they shouldn’t be doing.”