Hundreds of people rolled through the parking lot at the County Complex in Nogales to have their nasal passages swabbed during the first two days of a community-wide COVID-19 testing blitz.

Vehicles began queuing up at around 6 a.m. Saturday for the start of the free event, which got underway at 7:30 a.m. Two hours into the blitz, county officials said approximately 300 people had been tested, with start-to-finish processing times decreasing from around a half-hour to less than 20 minutes.

By the end of the day Saturday, 547 people had been swabbed. Another 383 community members were tested on Sunday, with processing times decreasing to as little as 10 minutes, according to County Health Services Director Jeff Terrell.

The swabbing itself took only a few seconds, and participants said it was relatively painless.

“It felt kind of weird,” said 11-year-old Abdiel Dojaquez, an incoming student at Desert Shadows Middle School, though he added that it didn’t hurt. “It just, like, tickled.”

His mother, 34-year-old Noemi Diaz of Rio Rico, also brought her mother to Saturday’s edition of the blitz.

“I think it’s really good because it gives us more accurate numbers for our community, and we can go by actual numbers, not just ‘Oh, we think we have it,’” she said of the mass testing. “I think this is something really good to be better informed.”

As of Saturday, approximately 8,200 people from Santa Cruz County had been tested for COVID-19, with nearly 7,300 of those receiving the so-called PCR test that uses nasal swabbing to detect active infections. Now, backed by a $1.55-million grant, the county is hoping to double that number, starting with the six drive-through blitz events scheduled in Nogales, Rio Rico and Patagonia from July 25 through Aug. 1.

Test Blitz

Cars line up for free COVID-19 testing on Saturday at the County Complex in Nogales.

Terrell said the hope is that the large-scale testing will help reduce the county’s state-high positive test rate, which has been hovering around 28 percent on the PCR test.

Previously, he said, testing in Santa Cruz County was focused on symptomatic people due to limited test kit supplies. The test blitz events are open to anyone, symptomatic or not.

“We’re trying to get a better handle on the asymptomatic people out there as well so it would hopefully bring down our positivity rate,” Terrell said, adding: “We want to drop that into the single digits the best we can.”

Asymptomatic people can still be infected with and transmit COVID-19, and testing a larger pool of people can also identify cases that might otherwise go undetected.

“The other goal is to see how widespread it is in the county,” Terrell said.

Maria Cordova, a 70-year-old Nogalian, said she hasn’t had any COVID-19 symptoms, but wanted to take advantage of the opportunity by getting tested on Saturday.

“I really do take very good care of myself,” Cordova said, though she added that she feels “scared” about the state of the pandemic in Santa Cruz County.

State data published Monday morning showed that the county continues to have the highest per-capita confirmed case rate in Arizona, with an estimated one in 20 residents testing positive for the disease. And while a marked increase in testing is likely to bring the local positive test rate down, it will also add to the number of infections, which surpassed 2,500 over the weekend.

Turnaround times

Terrell said results from last weekend’s blitz events in Nogales had begun to trickle in to his office on Monday, with more expected on Tuesday. Long waits for test results have become increasingly common around the country, but Terrell said Santa Cruz County has a contract with a lab to provide both the kits and analysis, and the arrangement calls for a turnaround time of approximately 48 hours.

The county has been telling the public to expect results from the test blitz within 72 hours to give staff time to receive, process and relay the results, he said.

Test Blitz

Arizona National Guard troops helped direct traffic as well as performing the nasal swabs.

Terrell said results from last weekend’s blitz events in Nogales had begun to trickle in to his office on Monday, with more expected on Tuesday. Long waits for test results have become increasingly common around the country, but Terrell said Santa Cruz County has a contract with a lab to provide both the kits and analysis, and the arrangement calls for a turnaround time of approximately 48 hours.

The county has been telling the public to expect results from the test blitz within 72 hours to give staff time to receive, process and relay the results, he said.

The tests are being administered by soldier and airman medics from the Arizona National Guard. Saturday’s event included a team of 15 medics working at four vehicle lanes under a large tent pitched in the west parking lot of the County Complex.

Participants reached the testing area by driving up Congress Drive from the Grand Avenue access point and checking in at an intake area in the lower parking lot of the courthouse.

First Lt. Nish Patel, a public health officer with the Arizona National Guard, said he was impressed with the set-up. “They are well-prepared,” he said of the county’s operation.

Cordova was also impressed following her test. She called the process “pretty fast,” adding: “It’s great, they’re doing good.”

Test Blitz

Felipe Fuentes of Rio Rico has his nose swabbed during Saturday’s testing blitz.

Speaking halfway through Saturday’s inaugural blitz event, Terrell was feeling good about how things were going.

“We’re really pleased,” he said. “It’s a great turnout, the flow has been working real well – come on down.”

A second Nogales blitz event is planned for Sunday, July 26, from 8 a.m. to noon at the County Complex. Access will once again be from Grand Avenue.

The test blitzes at Rio Rico and Patagonia Union high schools are set for 8 a.m. to noon on Friday, July 31 and Saturday, Aug. 1, at both locations.

All of the testing is offered free of charge and participants need to bring a government-issued ID.

The organizers are hoping for a 72-hour turnaround on the test results.

Test Blitz

Cars line up for the start of the test blitz on Saturday at the Santa Cruz County Complex in Nogales.

The test blitzes at Rio Rico and Patagonia Union high schools are set for 8 a.m. to noon on Friday, July 31 and Saturday, Aug. 1, at both locations. Terrell said the county plans to set up the same type of flow at those sites that they used in Nogales.

All of the testing is offered free of charge and participants need to bring a government-issued ID.

Terrell said his department was aiming for up to 500 tests per day at the Rio Rico blitz, and “a few hundred” per day in Patagonia.

By comparison, county residents have been tested for active infections at a rate of a little more than 70 per day in the past several weeks.

Terrell previously told the NI that the county’s $1.55-million grant could pay for up to 8,400 PCR tests. Once the planned blitzes are completed, he said, his department will determine whether to hold more blitzes, or use the funding to support ongoing testing at the Mariposa Community Health Center, NextCare Urgent Care and Holy Cross Hospital.

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