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FLORENCE — The Pinal County Board of Supervisors will hold a special meeting Friday to consider a declaration of emergency to give the county more authority and funding flexibility to contain COVID-19.

The county still has only “minimal transmission” of the virus and “we have a window of opportunity right now, I think, to decrease the spread of this virus,” Pinal County Public Health Director Dr. Shauna McIsaac told the board Wednesday.

Board Chairman Anthony Smith, R-Maricopa, said he and Vice Chairman Pete Rios, D-Dudleyville, will work together on the specifics of a declaration of a public health emergency for the full board to consider Friday. Rios said he would like to see the board approve a proclamation supporting the recommendations of health organizations and the Pinal County director of health services, plus a declaration of emergency.

Pinal County Assessor Douglas Wolf told the board that county government has lobbies, not just in Florence but in Casa Grande and Apache Junction, which allow the public to circulate in and out. Wolf asked if county departments may legally close those areas temporarily for safety.

“I don’t know if we can do it (legally) but on behalf of our employees, I ask you to consider that as part of your process,” Wolf asked the board.

Smith replied that the supervisors would take it under consideration and work with the county manager and legal counsel on that question.

Supervisor Todd House, R-Apache Junction, asked if everyone should be tested for fever, with a scan of the forehead, before entering a public building.

McIsaac said public health clinics are beginning to do this now, and “I’d recommend that (other county department) directors consider that for their departments that have a public exposure.”

House asked if the county has enough scanners to supply all county departments.

“I know we have a fairly adequate number,” McIsaac said. “I would have to see how many we would just be able to transfer at this point. We may need to purchase others.”

House also asked what the supervisors or the public can do to get more test kits for the coronavirus in Pinal County. McIsaac said once she receives more information from the state, she can make a recommendation.

Smith asked if hospitals and clinics are seeing more traffic.

“A lot of people are showing up, wondering if they have COVID-19 and asking for testing,” McIsaac said, and added the community needs more personal protective equipment, or PPE, for health care workers. “We do have a shipment coming in from the federal government that will help with that.”

McIsaac made several recommendations to the board Wednesday that she said were in line with recommendations from both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the White House.

For health care providers, including outpatient facilities, nursing homes, long-term-care facilities, she recommended:

  • Changes to visitor policies to further limit exposure to health care providers, residents and patients. These could include temperature and symptoms checks for visitors and limiting visitor movement in the facility.
  • Implementing triage before entering facilities, in parking lots or just outside the front door. She further recommended “telemedicine triage” to limit unnecessary health care visits. All non-essential visits should be rescheduled.
  • Actively monitoring absenteeism and respiratory illness among health care providers and patients.
  • Actively monitoring PPE (personal protective equipment) supplies for first responders and health care workers.
  • Establishing processes to evaluate and test large numbers of patients and health care providers with respiratory symptoms in a designated clinic or in “surge tents.” (Surge tents are large tents that give facilities extra space to separate incoming emergency room patients who suspect they may have the virus from those with other emergency ailments.)
  • Requiring health care providers with no symptoms to wear face masks, and cross-training health care workers to work in other units in anticipation of staffing shortages.

For community and faith-based organizations, McIsaac recommended:

  • Implementing social distancing measures and reducing activities such as religious services, especially for organizations of individuals with increased risk of illness, including those over age 60 and with chronic health conditions. They are encouraged to upload video and audio of events instead of holding them in-person.
  • Determining ways to continue providing support services to individuals at increased risk of severe disease. This includes services, meals and checking in with them on a daily basis while limiting group settings and exposure.
  • Canceling large gatherings or any gatherings of more than 10 people, or at least holding smaller groupings. For organizations that serve people over age 60 or with chronic health conditions, “cancel gatherings of more than 10 people, absolutely,” McIsaac said.

For the workplace, she encouraged staff to telecommute whenever feasible, especially for those over age 60 or with chronic health conditions. She further recommended:

  • Implementing social-distancing measures to include increasing physical space between workers, staggering work schedules and decreasing social contacts in the workplace. For example, limit in-person meetings and meetings for lunch in the break room.
  • Limiting large work-related gatherings, staff meetings and after-work functions, and meet either by telephone or video.
  • Limiting nonessential work travel and consider regular health checks for temperature and respiratory symptoms. Provide temperature checks of all staff and visitors entering buildings if feasible.

For assisted living facilities, senior living facilities and adult day care programs, McIsaac recommended social distancing measures and reducing large gatherings and “basically all group social events.” Also:

  • Alter schedules to reduce mixing, including staggered activities and meals, and arrival and departure times.
  • Eliminate programs with external staff.
  • Consider having members stay in the facility, and for sicker members, limit exposure to the general public by closing to visitors. Provide temperature checks for staff as they arrive for work.

Washing hands with soap and water and avoiding touching one’s face significantly decreases the rate of infection, McIsaac said. The current recommendation for hand washing is 40 to 60 seconds. She also recommended people put “a household plan” into action, including a one-month supply of medications.

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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