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Arizona death prompts warning against self-medication

PHOENIX — A Phoenix-area man has died and his wife was in critical condition after the couple took chloroquine phosphate, an additive used to clean fish tanks that is also found in an anti-malaria medication that's been touted by President Donald Trump as a treatment for COVID-19.

Banner Health said Monday that the couple in their 60s got sick within half an hour of ingesting the additive. The man couldn't be resuscitated when he arrived at a hospital, but the woman was able to throw up much of the chemical, Banner said.

“Trump kept saying it was basically pretty much a cure," the woman told NBC. She said her advice for people would be, "Don't take anything. Don't believe anything. Don’t believe anything that the president says and his people ... call your doctor.”

It’s unclear if the couple took it specifically because of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, but now Banner Health is warning everyone to avoid self-medicating.

“Given the uncertainty around COVID-19, we understand that people are trying to find new ways to prevent or treat this virus, but self-medicating is not the way to do so,” said Dr. Daniel Brooks, Banner Poison and Drug Information Center medical director. “The last thing that we want right now is to inundate our emergency departments with patients who believe they found a vague and risky solution that could potentially jeopardize their health.”

At a news conference last week, Trump falsely stated that the Food and Drug Administration had just approved the use of an anti-malaria medication called chloroquine to treat patients infected with coronavirus. Even after the FDA chief clarified that the drug still needs to be tested for that use, Trump overstated the drug’s potential upside in containing the virus.

Chloroquine is obtained by prescription, and Banner Health is now urging medical providers against prescribing it to people who aren’t hospitalized. The difference between the fish tank cleaning additive that the couple took and the drug used to treat malaria is the way they are formulated.

The man's death came as the number of COVID-19 cases in Arizona spiked more than 50% in one day, from 152 on Sunday to 235 on Monday, according to the state Health Department.

Pima County reported its first coronavirus death: A woman in her 50s with an underlying health condition.

It marked the third COVID-19 death in Arizona. Two men, one in his 70s and one in his 50s, died previously from the disease. Both had underlying conditions.

Gov. Doug Ducey said he’s working on an “economic protection plan” to help people struggling with the loss of income, but he did not outline details. He said it will be released soon.

Ducey also answered questions about the role of the National Guard in Arizona, which the governor called upon last week. Ducey said the Guard is now involved only in shoring up the supply chain for grocery stores and food banks, but “they're going to be flexible.”

He said he’d deploy the Guard as needed but sidestepped a question about whether the soldiers would be involved in law enforcement.

About 100 National Guard soldiers received briefings Monday from medical, legal, public affairs and others staff, Major Aaron Thacker said. All were given a basic medical screening to check for a fever, he said.

“They’re preparing for the mission,” Thacker said. “I’m anticipating in the next couple of days you’re going to see a large volume of guardsmen crossing across the state in order to support the needs of the food banks.”

The Guard expects to mobilize more than 700 people this week, but it wasn’t clear exactly when they would hit the streets, and many more could be expected.

Ducey anticipates the response to the virus will include up to 5,500 Arizona National Guard personnel, he wrote Friday in a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper requesting federal money and additional authority. That would represent the majority of the Guard’s 7,600 members. Ducey said the state needs immediate help in several areas including planning, consulting, logistics and supplies, testing and personnel movement.

People have tested positive in 11 of Arizona’s 15 counties, including 139 cases in Maricopa County, the state’s most populous.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, older adults and people with health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the virus.

Dr. Cara Christ, Arizona's top health official, said the state is preparing for surging demand on hospitals. She said possibilities include building three field hospitals and re-opening shuttered medical centers, and using a former basketball arena to house patients leaving the hospital but not yet well enough to go home.

Ducey issued an executive order outlining “essential services” that can continue to operate if the state or any local government issues an order for people to stay home. The essential services include health care, food suppliers, gas stations, banks, hardware stores, laundromats, home repair and infrastructure.

Ducey said he’s preparing for the future but there’s no need currently for a stay-at-home order like those issued in several U.S. cities and states, including California and New York.

“Arizona is not there yet,” Ducey said. “We're not at the same stage as other states.”


Associated Press reporters Terry Tang and Bob Christie contributed to this report.

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Area restaurants readjust as coronavirus caution continues
 mstaude  / 

CASA GRANDE — With efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus entering another week, area restaurants are adjusting their businesses to stay afloat and continue serving customers.

At Eva’s Fine Mexican Food, the north side of the parking lot is now equipped to serve customers’ take-out orders curbside.

While the indoor dining room at L’Grande Cafe is closed, the outdoor patio is open and take-out business has been brisk.

Comfort food mobile eatery Sauce Boss is now accepting Zelle payments rather than credit cards and serving customers drive-thru style.

And at BeDillon’s Restaurant, where the dining room is generally packed with diners on an average weekend, the restaurant reportedly served 67 take-out meals for its customers on Friday night.

Some area restaurant owners said that staying open and being there for their customers is a service they must continue to provide.

“Food is a comfort to people,” said Andrea Dearing of Sauce Boss. “At Sauce Boss, we have a passion for making the foods that make people feel good and right now, I think our customers need us. The community has always been there for us and we want to be there for them.”

The food truck has reduced its service to lunch and dinner two or three times a week. To eliminate the need for customers to touch a point-of-service payment device, customers are asked to pre-order and prepay. Those paying in cash drop their payment into a jar.

“Things are changing rapidly, and we’re adjusting as best as we can,” Dearing said. “When we opened for a day last week, we sold out in two hours, but I’ve had several customers thank us for staying open.”

At Eva’s restaurant in downtown Casa Grande, the dining room is closed and 90% of the staff has been laid off.

But customers can still pre-order their favorite foods from the menu and have their order packed to go.

“The full menu is still available seven days a week except breakfast,” owner Fernando Cornejo said.

But with the dining room and bar closed, he said revenue is down dramatically at the restaurant, which has served the area community a repertoire of its family recipes for decades.

Cornejo said he hopes business is back to normal soon.

“I wish there was a way to hold on to our employees during this time, but with no dining room service, there’s no way,” he said. “Our employees are an important part of our community. I hope people think about the small businesses during this time and do all they can to support them. Everybody is really scared right now, and there’s nothing to indicate how long this will last.”

Casa Grande mayor warns restaurants to abide by order

CASA GRANDE — Mayor Craig McFarland is reminding local restaurants and their customers that Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order on Friday limits restaurant meals to take-out or drive-thru options only until further notice.

At L’Grande Cafe, owner Tom McGill said that maintaining a sense of normal has been important to his customers.

“We are open normal hours, and we’re trying to keep everything as normal as possible for our customers,” McGill said. “All orders are packed for takeout and people can eat outside on the patio.”

He said he’s ordered extra eggs and items needed to continue providing customers with the regular menu items they expect when they visit the cafe, including crepes.

The interior of the restaurant has been thoroughly disinfected and hand sanitizer has been placed near the checkout station.

“We will be open as we’re allowed to stay open,” McGill said. “I think our customers appreciate that, and it’s been nice weather for eating outside on the patio.”

Some area restaurants have decided to temporarily close their doors.

On Friday, Boston’s Restaurant and Sports Bar closed its Casa Grande doors, saying it hopes to re-open as soon as possible.

“This will also include our take-out and delivery options,” the restaurant posted on Facebook.

And while small business advocates are encouraging diners to support restaurants by using take-out, curbside and delivery options, Dearing said she’s using this time to help the community.

“I’ve been trying to help people out by picking up extra things like rice and beans for people who are having trouble getting to the store,” she said. “I also hope to eventually start getting out into the community to provide meals for kids in need. This is a scary time and people are feeling a lot of insecurity, but every tragedy is also an opportunity.”

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Casa Grande woman fights cancer amid COVID-19 outbreak
 jheadley  / 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a series examining the lives of five Pinal County residents during the COVID-19 outbreak. Those participating in the project have agreed to share their lives with PinalCentral readers and we will revisit them periodically during this health emergency.

CASA GRANDE — As all of us have begun what is called “social distancing,” one Casa Grande woman has already been doing it for the past five months.

Debra Castro, 54, has been fighting cancer of her appendix since October. She has been diagnosed with colonic-type adenocarcinoma that was discovered when she had surgery on her appendix.

Colonic-type adenocarcinoma accounts for about 10% of appendix tumors and usually occurs at the base of the appendix. Appendix cancer looks and behaves like the most common type of colorectal cancer. It often goes unnoticed, and a diagnosis is frequently made during or after surgery for appendicitis.

“They thought I had an appendicitis. I was admitted into the hospital for dehydration and low potassium. I was in the hospital for eight days,” Castro said.

She was in and out of the hospital several times over many months.

“They did what they thought was an appendectomy. They thought it was just an abscess. When they went in to try and take my appendix out, they couldn’t find it. They let me out of the hospital and a couple days later I went back to my surgeon. He told me I had cancer,” she said.

Castro said she expected it might be cancer but was still surprised by the diagnosis. Doctors quickly installed port access for chemotherapy and she had her first chemo treatment just a week later.

“Then this coronavirus stuff started coming up,” she said. “My immune system is already compromised, so I don’t go anywhere and I don’t do anything. All I do is sit in this house all day long, every day.”

When people visit her, including her grandchildren, they have to make absolutely sure they are not sick in any way.

“If they have a cough, they can’t come inside this house. They have to stay away from me. Everyone even has to wash their hands before they give me a hug,” she said.

Castro said her support system relies heavily on her longtime boyfriend, Michael.

“He’s been taking care of me the past 29 years,” she said.

Castro also suffers with seizures, which makes her cancer and its treatment all that more difficult.

“It makes it hard to have chemo. Hopefully, I won’t have any seizures while I’m having chemo. That wouldn’t be good. I really haven’t left my house since last year — I’d say October. I didn’t even know I had cancer until February. With my body, I can’t go anywhere,” she said.

The only exception to staying in her house is when she goes to doctors offices and hospitals for treatments.

“I’m going to stay isolated. I am going to go and get my lab tests here in Casa Grande and hopefully not catch anything. I have to have lab tests done before I go have chemo again,” Castro said, knowing that simply going out of the house is not safe for her.

She goes out only while wearing an N95-grade respirator mask and sterile gloves.

“I have masks on order from Amazon. Everybody has been buying them up like crazy. You have to wait to get the good masks. I have two masks on order right now. I am washing my hands constantly. They say don’t touch your face. How do you not touch your face? It is impossible. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I can’t talk to my friends. I can talk to them on Facebook or call them, but I can’t see them. I haven’t seen my friends in months,” Castro said.

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Casa Grande mayor warns restaurants to abide by order

CASA GRANDE — Mayor Craig McFarland is reminding local restaurants and their customers that Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order on Friday limits restaurant meals to take-out or drive-thru options only until further notice.

That includes no sit-down service inside the restaurant or on the restaurant’s patio.

The governor’s order closed gyms, fitness clubs, bars, theaters and dine-in restaurant service at the close of business on Friday.

McFarland said he’s had to call a couple of businesses. The governor’s executive order took effect Saturday morning and there was some confusion as to what was allowed, he said. For example, curb-side pickup vs. allowing people to enter the restaurant to pick up their food and then having more than 10 people inside.

“So we are trying to help people define what they can and cannot do,” McFarland said.

He said people are allowed to pickup food inside a restaurant and take it home.

“You just need to make sure to practice social distancing and no more than 10 people at a time,” McFarland said. “I would encourage them to deliver it to a vehicle at the curb instead of having people come inside. But it is OK for them to come inside to pick it up.”

He said if the governor’s executive order is not followed, the city will follow up with those businesses and if necessary the businesses will be reported to the State Liquor Department.

The city is trying to avoid using police officers to enforce the closures, McFarland said.

McFarland encouraged local restaurants that offer take-out or pickup food service to avoid long lines inside their buildings by asking customers to park at the curb outside the restaurant’s doors and having employees walk the food out to the customers.

He also reminded residents using city parks and other open spaces to keep a minimum distance of 6 feet between them and anyone else using the area in order to prevent the spread of the virus.

Ducey also issued an executive order Monday afternoon on what “essential services” businesses would stay open or use teleworking to operate if he decided to further restrict  movement, adding "we're not there yet."

Those essential businesses would include:

  • Health care such as hospitals, clinics, dental offices, doctor’s offices, eye doctors, veterinarians and companies that manufacture health care equipment or supplies
  • Social service industries such as food banks, child and senior welfare and assistance programs
  • The construction industry
  • Home service providers such as plumbers, utility providers and internet providers
  • Essential government functions such as emergency responders, sanitation and public works employees
  • Grocery stores, farms and food production companies
  • Animal shelters and kennels
  • Restaurants that offer pickup, drive-thru or delivery services
  • Pharmacies
  • Media organizations
  • Gas stations and vehicle repair shops
  • Parks and other recreation centers that offer enough space to keep people at least 6 feet apart
  • Banks, pawn shops, payday lenders, appraisers, title companies, real estate agencies, legal offices
  • Hardware and other supply stores
  • Mail and shipping
  • Schools, colleges and universities so they can provide distance learning, maintain buildings and provide food through free and reduced lunch pickup programs
  • Dry cleaners and laundromats
  • Businesses that supply equipment to work from home or for businesses that are allowed to be open
  • Taxi, Uber, Lyft, vehicle rental services and other public and private transportation services
  • Home-based care for the disabled, seniors or children.
  • Residential care facilities including those for substance abuse and mental health care
  • Day care centers for the children of employees in essential businesses
  • Hotels
  • Funeral services