Community members will have the chance to be tested for COVID-19 free of charge at one of three locations in Santa Cruz County as part of an upcoming “testing blitz,” the county government announced on Monday.

The first round of testing is scheduled for July 25 and 26 at the Santa Cruz County Complex. Subsequent events will be held July 31 and Aug. 1 at Rio Rico High School and Patagonia Union High School.

All of the testing will take place from 8 a.m. to noon. Participants must bring an ID and remain in their vehicles.

Medical professionals will perform the polymerase chain reaction, or PCR test, which involves a nasal swab and detects active COVID-19 infections.

“Everyone is encouraged to get tested,” the county said in its announcement.

There is one catch, however: People who get tested will be required to isolate for 10 days or until they’ve received a negative test result.

Still, the county said it expects results to be returned from the lab “after approximately 24 hours.” At that point, they’ll be reported to the participants by the County Health Services Department.

The testing in Santa Cruz County is made possible by a $1.55-million grant apportioned by the State of Arizona from a larger $150-million grant from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to help states slow the spread of COVID-19.

Latest trends

The announcement of the testing blitz comes as statistics show that approximately 5 percent of Santa Cruz County residents – or one in every 20 people – have already tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

There were 2,361 confirmed cases among local residents as of Monday, according to the County Health Services Department. Compared to the county’s U.S. Census-estimated population of 46,498, that means a confirmed case rate of 5.08 percent, which is two-and-a-half times the rate for the state as a whole.

Since many people who are infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic and don’t get tested, and because testing is still limited, the number of confirmed cases in Santa Cruz County and elsewhere does not reflect the true number of infections.

Approximately two-thirds of the local residents who tested positive – a total of 1,589 – have since recovered, according to the county’s data.

However, another 39 people have died from their infections, with eight of those deaths recorded in the week leading up to Monday.

Santa Cruz County’s rate of 1.7 deaths per 100 infections remains slightly better than the statewide rate of 1.9.

In terms of hospitalizations, that number reached 124 as of Monday, meaning that 5.3 percent of local residents with a confirmed infection have had to be hospitalized. That was compared to a 4.6-percent hospitalization rate statewide.

The number of confirmed cases in the community has been slowing in recent weeks, but so has the rate of testing. The daily average of both figures is less than half what it was in mid-to-late June.

Santa Cruz County continues to have Arizona’s highest overall positivity rate on the test that detects active COVID-19 infections. But that figure has dropped slightly of late, and the county performed better on the measure than the rest of the state during the week leading up to Monday.

Data from the Arizona Department of Health Services showed that a little more than 20 percent (one-fifth) of people from Santa Cruz County whose results were reported from July 14-20 received a positive result on the so-called PCR test for active infections.

During that same seven-day period, Arizona’s positivity rate was 23.6 percent, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Research Center. That was the highest rate among the 50 states.

Santa Cruz County’s overall positive test rate, which takes into account all of the tests administered since the start of the pandemic, dropped from 28.9 percent on Monday, July 13, to 28.3 percent on Monday, July 20.

That was still significantly higher than the overall statewide positivity rate of 14.5 percent on the PCR test.

And both the county and state are nowhere near the World Health Organization’s recommendation that governments see a positive test rate of 5 percent or lower for at least 14 days before re-opening.

“If a positivity rate is too high, that may indicate that the state is only testing the sickest patients who seek medical attention, and is not casting a wide enough net to know how much of the virus is spreading within its communities,” the John Hopkins site says. “A low rate of positivity in testing data can be seen as a sign that a state has sufficient testing capacity for the size of their outbreak and is testing enough of its population to make informed decisions about reopening.”

In Nogales, Sonora, there had been 1,835 confirmed infections and 181 deaths as of Sunday, up from 1,708 cases and 155 deaths a week earlier, according to a report from the state health department.

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