As local COVID-19 testing slows and the rate of positive test results remains high, the county’s health services director said on Thursday that his department is close to confirming one or more testing blitzes in Santa Cruz County during the next few weeks.

“We’re shooting for next weekend, so the weekend of the 25th and 26th,” Jeff Terrell said, adding that county officials were finalizing a few details of the events before sending out an official notice to the public.

He added that the first testing blitz would focus on the Nogales area, but officials are hoping to hold other events soon after in Rio Rico and Patagonia.

According to information from the Arizona Department of Health Services, 6,731 people from Santa Cruz County had been tested for an active COVID-19 infection as of Thursday morning, up from 6,131 the previous week. That’s an average of 86 people tested each day since the previous week.

During the two-week period leading up to June 25, nearly 180 county residents were being tested each day. But that number has fallen into double-digits in the three weeks since then.

Dr. Richard Fleming, a medical director for NextCare who oversees the company’s Urgent Care facility in Nogales, said the clinic had seen a steady daily average of about 100 people coming for testing in June. In the past two weeks, he said, that number had dropped to about 50 to 60 individuals per day.

“I’m not sure why that is, to be very honest with you,” Fleming said, though he noted that Santa Cruz County has a fairly small population of about 46,000 people.

“After a while, if you’re testing, testing, testing, you get to a point where you’ve tested quite a few people and maybe they just aren’t coming back anymore at that point because they have other things to do,” he speculated.

Terrell said that county health officials have been in contact with local medical professionals, and noted that other facilities including Mariposa Community Health Center and Holy Cross Hospital have also seen fewer patients going in for coronavirus testing.

But like Fleming, Terrell said his department hasn’t been able to attribute the lower testing rate to any specific factors.

“We’re all kind of trying to figure out why, but it has slowed down,” Terrell said. “We’re not sure if the word has gotten out and people are doing the social distancing and wearing the masks, or not going because there’s not a lot of people showing symptoms.”

State data shows that the people who are getting tested in Santa Cruz County are still testing positive at a high rate. As of Thursday, the positive result rate on the test for active infections was 28.5 percent, still the highest among Arizona’s 15 counties by almost 10 percentage points, and well above the statewide positivity rate of 14.3 percent.

Asked if the coming testing blitzes in Santa Cruz County would be available for asymptomatic individuals who have not been exposed to positive COVID-19 cases, Terrell said: “The blitzes will be open to anybody.”

That’s good news for Andrew Anderson of Patagonia, who said he didn’t have luck getting tested for coronavirus with his primary care physician at the MCHC.

“I own a store in town and my concern is that I may accidentally be asymptomatic and could be exposing people,” Anderson said, adding that his plan was to get tested before opening his shop to the public again.

However, he said, he was turned down for testing at MCHC because he wasn’t showing COVID-19 symptoms and hadn’t been exposed to a positive case.

Anderson added that he hadn’t checked in with other local clinics that offer testing for asymptomatic people, such as NextCare, because he felt comfortable that he was keeping his distance from his store clients and the general public as his business remains closed. But if there were to be a testing blitz in Patagonia, he said, he’d plan to get tested there.

“The thing right now with COVID is testing… and identifying people,” Dr. Fleming of NextCare said, pointing out that there’s significant spread of the virus from asymptomatic people. “It’s very important to be capturing those people, symptomatic and asymptomatic, so we can reduce the actual spread of it.”

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