Santa Cruz County’s number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb, with 29 new infections confirmed in the past week.

Data posted at 5 p.m. Thursday by the County Health Services Department showed 69 confirmed cases in the local area, up from 40 as of Thursday, May 7.

Of the total number of cases, 37 involved people who have recovered, meaning there were 32 known active infections in the county.

Asked about the recent spike in cases, Jeff Terrell, the county’s health services director, pointed to a recent increase in testing. During the week leading up to May 7, the number of people from Santa Cruz County who had been tested for the disease grew from 300 to 466, according to statistics from the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Asked if there had been other clusters of infections, such as the one at the Divine Flavor produce repacking facility, that had contributed to the recent increase in positive cases, Terrell said:

“We’ve had a couple little – we’re not declaring them outbreaks or anything out of place – but we’ve had a couple little clusters,” he said, adding that spread within familial groups might also be driving the numbers up.

One key figure Gov. Doug Ducey is using to support his decision to let the stay-at-home order expire is the decline in the percentage of tests for the virus coming back positive. At one point, the statewide rate was in the 10-percent range; the most recent figures are at 7.5 percent.

In Santa Cruz County, the rate of positive tests was 9.7 percent as of Thursday, down from 12 percent on April 23.

Only thing is, the initial tests performed for months in Arizona were only given to those people who showed symptoms of COVID-19. In the past few weeks, however, state Health Director Cara Christ has allowed testing of anyone who thinks they may have been exposed.

By definition, that increases the pool of those tested to include more who are less likely to have the virus.

During a news conference on Tuesday, Ducey reacted angrily to questions about whether relying on those test results was a mistake, Capitol Media Services reported.

“I’m not going to allow you to manipulate the metrics that have been presented,” he said.

At the bottom in testing

Despite its recent gains, Santa Cruz County still has the lowest rate of testing among Arizona’s 15 counties, according to calculations based on data from the Arizona Department of Health Services posted Thursday and 2010-2019 U.S. Census population estimates.

Those calculations showed Santa Cruz County with a rate of 100 tests per 10,000 residents. Graham and Mohave counties had the next-lowest rates, with approximately 106 and 135 tests per 10,000 residents, respectively.

Apache County had the highest testing rate at 439 tests per 10,000 residents, followed by Navajo (349) and La Paz (334).

The statewide testing rate has been driven up in part by a recent testing blitz sponsored by the state government. However, none of the blitz events have been held in Santa Cruz County.

Terrell said questions about the county’s lack of participation in the testing blitz, as well as its poor overall rate of testing, were best directed to local health service providers.

When the NI asked Holy Cross Hospital if it was facing any particular problems in obtaining tests, or if there was any other issue that might help explain why the county’s testing rate is so low, a corporate spokesman offered a statement attributable to hospital CEO Debra Knapheide saying only that: “We follow CDC guidelines for identification and treatment of patients with suspected or confirmed cases of the coronavirus.”

Asked if Holy Cross had reached out or would consider reaching out to the state to serve as a local testing blitz site, the statement said that the hospital was investigating the possibility of participating in a University of Arizona initiative to test for antibodies that would determine if someone has been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19.

The latest state statistics show that two people from Santa Cruz County have been hospitalized due to COVID, according to ADHS statistics, though it wasn’t clear when those hospitalizations occurred. Terrell told the NI on Monday that neither case involved the patient being put on a ventilator. There have been no local deaths.

In Nogales, Sonora, where strict restrictions on public activity remain in place, there were 72 confirmed COVID-19 cases and five deaths, according to a report delivered by the state health secretary on Wednesday evening.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in a community is unlikely to represent the true number of infections, since many people who are infected show no or mild symptoms, and relatively few people are tested for it. Those who are asymptomatic can still transmit the disease, which is why public health officials are urging social distancing even in areas where there are low numbers of confirmed cases.

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