Arizona gears up as it prepares for an outbreak of the coronavirus

Posted at 6:38 PM, Feb 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-01 20:46:13-05

PHOENIX — In a letter to lawmakers, Arizona Department of Health Services Director Cara Christ said the state is making plans to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) rather than contain it.

Dr. Christ warned, it may soon be no longer feasible to isolate and quarantine those who will be infected and the people with whom they come in contact. Dr. Christ says public health may begin working with community and business leaders to encourage social distancing, teleworking and reducing or canceling large gatherings of people.

DHS is preparing to release its plan next week which will include details on what schools and school districts need to do to prepare in the event there is a coronavirus outbreak.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman is expected to be briefed by DHS officials.

So far there was only one known case of coronavirus in Arizona. That person was treated at Valleywise Health Medical Center in Phoenix. Valleywise was formerly the Maricopa County Medical Center.

The hospital has a team that reviews protocols on how to respond to pandemics and other major medical events.

"We looked at our coronavirus and our infectious disease protocols right when we saw the first cases in the U.S. earlier in the month of February," Chief Medical Officer Michael White said.

Some of the immediate changes seem minor, but they are important. When a patient comes to the hospital with respiratory or flu-like symptoms they will be asked if they had recently traveled to one of the epidemic areas or if they have spent any time with someone who did travel there.

Dr. White added, "we're all learning how best to deal with this and we continue to learn as a medical community on how best to treat, care for and manage these patients."

A spokesperson for the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association told ABC15 if there was a sudden surge of the virus and there weren't enough hospital beds, that would likely trigger a declaration for a public health emergency.

They say AZHHA would work with the state to find additional beds, like at outpatient treatment centers, for example.

Next week, Arizona will be able to test for the coronavirus and no longer have to send samples to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. DHS says it has approximately 100 test kits and does not anticipate it will have any problem getting more if the need arises. Currently, county health departments are monitoring people who have recently returned to Arizona from countries affected by the coronavirus. The health departments make daily symptom check calls as well.