FLORENCE — As citizens around the country hold demonstrations to reopen the economy, doing so too soon could backfire, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors was told.
Dr. Shauna McIsaac, Pinal County public health director, said according to White House guidelines, communities shouldn’t begin to relax restrictions until they’ve seen a reduction in cases for 14 days, there’s sufficient testing and monitoring, and hospitals are able to treat all patients.
The supervisors heard updates from McIsaac and other top county staff April 22 on how the county might accelerate economic recovery while following public health guidance.
McIsaac told the board the county had 283 COVID-19 cases and eight deaths.
Supervisor Todd House, R-Apache Junction, said waiting for 14 straight days of improvement “seems like a long time, and we’re still increasing. And I want to get things opened up faster than later. This means we’re at least 16 days away from the next phase; is that how you’re interpreting that?” he asked McIsaac.
McIsaac said 14 days of improvement are important “because if we make a change today, we won’t see the effect for 14 days, because of the infectious period.” Although quick action can be a good thing, “in this case it could backfire, and lead to unintended consequences of increasing numbers of cases, and then we have to go back to where we are now.”
House asked if the public must wait 12 to 18 months for a vaccine, “before we return to the new normal?”
McIsaac said reopening will not be the same as returning to normal as long as COVID-19 is circulating in the communities.
“We do not anticipate returning to normal until we have a vaccine and have achieved herd immunity.”
She said herd immunity is achieved when so many people have been vaccinated or have recovered from the infection, that when the infection reappears, it can’t spread far.
As far as Pinal County’s readiness to meet the challenge, it’s in the same position as the rest of the state, McIsaac said.
“Significantly, we have issues with testing, mainly due to the lack of the swab,” she said.
Some symptomatic individuals can’t readily find a test in Pinal County. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and governors throughout the country are speaking to the importance of adequate testing, McIsaac said.
“We’re also having significant issues with personal protective equipment.”
The state ordered over $1 million in PPE that should be arriving perhaps next week, McIsaac said.
Supervisors Chairman Anthony Smith, R-Maricopa, asked if the coronavirus would follow the seasons similar to the flu.
“I don’t know if there’s a lot of hope that we would actually see a decrease through our summer,” McIsaac said. “I don’t know if we’ll see an increase in the fall. I think there’s a possibility that it will just be continuing — more of a steady situation that we’re dealing with, more than a waxing and waning one.”
She said it’s still unknown why some people show no or mild symptoms, while others become seriously ill.
Supervisor Steve Miller, R-Casa Grande, said it appears the coronavirus is here to stay and public officials will be responding to it for years to come.
“I think it will be like many of the other infectious diseases that we have vaccinations for,” McIsaac replied. “Once we have a vaccination for it and people routinely take that vaccination I think we can look forward to it not being front and center in our lives after that point.”