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Southern counties ask state for help to stop COVID-19 spread

Posted at 4:32 PM, Jun 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-25 20:43:25-04

YUMA, AZ — Dr. Eladio Pereira works at the Mariposa Community Health Center in Nogales, Arizona. The clinic has been busy non-stop.

He said, "It has been like we've never seen before. The number of patients with active [the] disease has increased dramatically."

The main campus is screening patients before they can even come in the building. Dr. Pereira explained, "Since the first week in March, we decided to make some changes that were significant. From surgical masking use to procedures to keep our staff safe, implementation of our screening stations."

The health crisis has put a strain not only on them but on all health resources around the state.

"Certainly, in rural areas like ours that's magnified because the choices are not the same," Dr. Pereira commented.

He is worried older patients, who are the most vulnerable age group, will not seek help because they are not familiar with telemedicine; they don't have transportation to the clinic; or because they are frightened.

"We're a little concerned that sometimes they don't come to see us because they are concerned with COVID, and rightfully so. But, we need to keep in the back of our minds, those patients still need to see us. They have huge challenges," he said.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, people 65 and older make up 75% of all deaths across the state. That is why medical professionals are stressing the importance of things, they say, we all know to do by now.

Dr. Edmond Baker is the medical director of Equality Health in Phoenix and told ABC15, "My advice to my patients is continue social distancing. I would prefer if there were still a stay at home order in place, but since there's not, social distancing has to be our major way of keeping ourselves healthy."

ABC15 asked Governor Doug Ducey's office for the exact ways he is addressing the issues relating to the spread of COVID-19 in the border counties. His office replied and said that they are tracking data along the border and have plans to expand public health education. When asked for specifics, none were provided.

The Governor’s Office did add that they will increase testing. That is something desperately needed in these areas, according to county leaders.

Jeff Terrell is the Santa Cruz County Health Director. This is something he pointed to in an interview.

"Well we would like to see increase testing down here,” Terrell said. “We have increased our testing quite a bit. Unfortunately, we were slow to get that testing down here."

He added that the county is trying to put on testing blitzes, but they can't do it alone and will need the state's help.

"We are trying to work with the state as far as getting some funding, additional funding, to set up some blitzes so we can get that additional testing to hopefully get most of the citizens of Santa Cruz county tested."

Another thing they believe will help Santa Cruz and Yuma Counties are masks, especially if residents work in tight groups.

The number one industry in Yuma County is agriculture, and the farm workers who tend to the land often work closely together. Recently, there has been a COVID-19 outbreak on farms in some Canadian provinces. Three farm workers from Mexico died from the virus. Now, procedures are being looked at to keep them safe.

Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino wanted to make masks mandatory in his city before Gov. Ducey gave the go-ahead.

"We're going to have to make sure that this is enforced citywide and countywide, and the way I think it should be done if that's the case when it comes to a mask. It has to be enforced statewide because, if you have people coming in from Tucson are coming in from Nevada. So know that they better understand that they need to wear a mask when they go into a store."

CEO of Sunset Health Clinic in Yuma County, David Rogers, agrees masks will be highly effective in slowing the spread.

"You know, with the rate of an infection and with the surge is going on. I certainly do not understand why people aren't wearing a mask, because with this type of a virus. It's absolutely the best way to protect yourself is to distance at least six feet and to wear a mask."

Currently, masks are mandatory in certain cities and counties in Arizona, but not statewide. There is still debate on enforcement.

The medical professionals do all agree washing hands, wearing masks, and social distancing are all anyone can do to protect themselves until this virus is under control.

Dr. Baker concluded, "There's no cure and there's no vaccine. So, there's nothing we can immediately do to make this go away. All we can do are the preventative measures; keeping distancing, have protective equipment, all those things that we can do now, but it's not an immediate fix of the problem."