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Viral Warning 

Local officials prep for COVID-19 in Pima County

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Hours after local organizers canceled this weekend's Tucson Festival of Books over coronavirus concerns, the Pima County Health Department announced the first "presumptive" case of coronavirus in unincorporated Pima County.

With three cases of the global virus previously confirmed in Pinal County, and an estimated 120 residents of Pima County being evaluated, the virus' arrival to Tucson was inevitable. But at a press conference earlier on Monday, March 9, local officials told the public that rather than worrying, they should treat the spreading virus as they would a bad flu season.

"The vast majority of healthy people will get through this just like we get though the flu season, but our elders and those who are ill are the ones who will have the most serious consequences," Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías said. "Our community needs to know that this isn't something that is going to come and go... We are going to be dealing with this illness for some time until it runs its course."

According to the Pima County Health Department, the first presumptive case in Pima County was a resident who recently returned from travel in an area with community spread of the virus. According to health department officials, the victim was not severely ill, was recovering at home in isolation and has been fully cooperative with public health monitoring. Arizona Department of Health Services and PCHD are currently investigating any close contacts that may have been exposed while the person was infectious.

Pima County officials requested the public to use "common sense" regarding coronavirus: wash your hands, avoid others if you feel sick, cover your cough and don't touch your face.

"We are actively working with local, state and federal partners to monitor and prepare for the presence of COVID-19 in Pima County," said Tucson Mayor Regina Romero. "I want to emphasize that both the county and city have protocols in place to deal with exactly this kind of situation, and are ready to respond to when the virus presents itself in our region... as with other illnesses, sticking to the basics can go a long way."

Francisco Garcia, chief medical officer for the Pima County Health Department, highlighted three important messages in response to the "rapidly evolving situation": this is the time to optimize your health and the health of your family; we need to focus on protecting the vulnerable, such as the elderly and the medically frail; we need to make sure our first responders are taken care of and are using the correct policies regarding this virus.

"This is probably going to feel to us like a bad flu season," said Bob England of the Pima County Health Department. "So just as we lose tens of thousands of Americans each year to the flu, this will tragically kill many people. There's no getting around that, but it's going to be like what we experience every year... We got a lot to learn, but there are a lot of good indications for us to treat this the same way we treat influenza."

England says he cannot foresee a circumstance where Pima County would need to close a school, as children are becoming infected less often and less severely.

While the Festival of Books was canceled due to more than 100 authors dropping out over coronavirus fears, the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association says thus far they do not plan to cancel Tucson's next major event, the Fourth Avenue Street Fair, scheduled for March 20-22.

For more information on the disease, and how to best protect yourself, Pima County has established the website pima.gov/covid19

More by Jeff Gardner

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