COVID-19 Cases Rejected, Navajo County Still Hot Spot for the State of Latest News

New COVID-19 cases in Navajo County have declined sharply in the past week or two, and initial-halted vaccination efforts for high-risk groups have picked up, the county health director Janelle Linn told the board of directors on Tuesday.

This week the county reported 12 to 30 new cases every day, compared to 100 to 150 new cases at the peak of the spike in January, she said.

“That’s a big improvement,” she said, despite the county’s 110,000 residents having suffered 449 deaths and more than 14,000 cases since the pandemic began.

In the past two weeks, Arizona has seen a 58% decrease in new cases, a 4% decrease in deaths, and a 29% decrease in hospital stays from the January high, possibly due to the high mix of households during the holidays is.

Navajo and Apache counties are still among the counties with the highest infection rate – although rates have been halved from the high. The latest figures put Navajo County’s infection rate at 48 / 100,000 for two weeks – the highest in the state. Apache County’s rate is 44 / 100,000 – which is roughly the same as Maricopa County’s. Neighboring Gila County has a rate of 38 / 100,000 and Greenlee County has the lowest rate in the state at 17 / 100,000.

Fortunately, new, more infectious strains of the virus are not yet widespread in Arizona, Linn said.

At least three cases of a variant first identified in England have now been confirmed in Arizona, Linn said. Studies suggest that the variant spreads 30 to 70% faster, but does not cause any more serious illnesses in those infected. The existing vaccines appear to remain almost as effective against this new strain.

However, doctors are still on the lookout for other new strains, including one that was first found in Brazil and one that appears to be native to South Africa. These strains can cause more serious symptoms and can bypass the immune system better and make vaccines less effective. Some studies suggest that vaccines that are 95% effective against the current dominant strains may only be 50% or perhaps 70% effective against the South African strain, which is 20 or 30% more likely to be fatal.

So far, Arizona has only reported contamination from the UK. A new California strain is also spreading more easily and may also be circulating in Arizona.

“There are still enough vaccines to cover these strains. I think we are in a good position when it comes to looking for these strains, ”said Linn.

Still, the federal agencies for disease control concluded that the faster-spreading strains will dominate the United States sometime in March or April. That said, we’re in a race to get the population vaccinated as soon as possible before the new, fast-spreading strains cause another deadly high point in infection.

Fortunately, the slowly starting vaccination effort has picked up pace.

“We vaccinated 11,161 people in Navajo County and 1,874 people completed their second shot,” Linn said. “That encourages us. Our main problem is not having enough vaccine. We have the resources to do this quickly once we have a steady supply of vaccines. “

Navajo County had a vaccination rate of 10,104 per 100,000 population as of February 8, close to the national average. In contrast, neighboring Apache County had the lowest rate in the state – 6,070 / 100,000. Gila County has a rate of 14,261 / 100,000.

According to the State Department of Health Services, the rate is 12,800 / 100,000 nationwide and 12,923 / 100,000 nationwide.

Greenlee County has the highest rate in the state at 24,530 cases per 100,000 people – more than double the rate of Navajo County’s and four times that of Apache County’s, based on federal disease control numbers.

The nationwide vaccination program has also picked up speed. To date, Arizona has given 9.6% of its residents a first dose and 2.3% a second dose. Only about six states did significantly better at this point, including neighboring New Mexico, where 12% received a dose and 4.2% received a second dose. Nationwide, according to the CDC, 32 million received one shot and 10 million received the full two-shot dose.

In many areas, around 10% of the population have recovered from infection and another 10% have been vaccinated. This is still far from the 70% to 90% protection rate required to achieve “herd immunity” that slows the spread of the virus into a creep and allows normal life to resume. Until then, precautions like avoiding large groups, wearing masks, staying home when you feel sick, social distancing, and other precautions are the only ways to slow the spread until vaccination efforts reach the majority of the population, likely sometime this summer.

The rural counties received vaccination doses a week later than the Maricopa and Pima counties. The number of doses taken each week varied widely. The Moderna vaccine used here needs to be kept super cold before use, and the vaccine goes bad within an hour of opening the vial. This means that as soon as they open a vial, the districts and their health partners need to ensure that people line up to take every single shot, which is complicated planning.

The county works its way through the high-priority groups, including health workers, public safety workers, key frontline workers such as teachers, and those over 75. Once the county gets enough doses, it will open up to those over 65 and high-priority adults-risk diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes.

The county paved the way for pods to open in almost every town in the White Mountains, including two centers in Show Low. Until then, health partners like Summit had mainly looked after the vaccination clinics.

However, the county must receive a constant supply of 3,000 to 4,000 cans per week from the state in order to open these “pods”.

So far, deliveries from the state remain well below this level and are unpredictable from week to week.

Governor Doug Ducey has threatened to cut the allotment for districts that don’t use up all of the cans they receive each week, which has put additional pressure on districts to fire up shots as soon as possible. This has resulted in a sometimes chaotic process that staggers from week to week.

The number of daily doses administered nationwide has increased from approximately 900,000 doses on January 19th to approximately 1.5 million doses per day on February 9th. Currently, we won’t vaccinate 70% of the population until Sept. 15. So far, Arizona has given about 68% of the 1.3 million doses it received – which puts the state in the middle of the pack.

Linn hopes this process will smooth out in the coming weeks as vaccine makers roll out and the state and federal government smooth the supply chain. Some counties have appointments for people over 65, but that varies from week to week and from place to place in Navajo County. Many frustrated residents searched endlessly for appointments. Some drove down into the valley and tried to get shots at one of the mass vaccination sites there, including one at a 24/7 soccer stadium.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamela Harris made nationwide headlines this week by taking a 24/7 virtual tour of the Phoenix mass vaccination site.

Biden praised the site as a national model, even though the site has far fewer doses than it could be due to a limited supply.

During this virtual tour, Biden promised to increase the offer on a national level. “We were now able to speak to vaccine manufacturers. They have significantly increased obligations regarding the amount of vaccines they will produce. And things start to click. People are starting to feel that they can find a way to get the vaccine. “

The location at the State Farm football stadium in Glendale handles 350 to 400 shots per hour, or about 9,000 per day. The state hopes to increase the pace to 12,000 shots a day. The difficulty of booking appointments had compounded the impact of the vaccine shortage.

The state operates another mass vaccination site in the valley at the Phoenix Municipal Stadium near the Phoenix Zoo, but it is not operating 24/7.

The Arizona Department of Health filed a new appeal this week to increase the state’s vaccine allocation by 300,000 doses per week. Arizona Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly both backed the request in the hope that their status as swing state senators, who remain key to the Senate’s democratic control, would add weight to the request.

According to Linn, the county has set up sites and staff for vaccination capsules in almost every ward in the county, including Snowflake, Pinetop, two locations in Show Low, and other locations across the county. The district has completed the training of the people who will operate the sites in handling the sensitive Moderna shot. The county is also working with the Navajo Nation and the White Mountain Apache Tribe to coordinate the effort – although, with the help of the Indian Health Service and a separate vaccine allocation system, the reservations generally outperform other communities.

Daryl Seymore, chairman of the board of directors of Navajo County, said, “It’s worth noting that we are in the top five counties for vaccine distribution – although I know the Navajo Nation for what they did before us is. It’s a great effort on our team. We’re doing as good a job as possible. “

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