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Experts Urge Arizonans To Take Coronavirus Precautions As Cases Spike Across The State

The Arizona Department of Health Services reported more than 6,000 new coronavirus infections and 54 new deaths Dec. 23, bringing the state past 8,000 fatalities since the pandemic began.

More than 60% of Arizona’s COVID-19 cases have been identified in Maricopa County.

Pima County has racked up the second-highest number of cases, with about 13% of the state’s total. But that doesn’t mean the current surge is strictly an urban issue.

Residents in rural parts of the state may have less immediate access to emergency care or live in counties where mitigation measures aren’t being taken as seriously as they were early on.

Consider Mohave County, where public health precautions have been loosened. For example, the county stopped requiring masks inside county-owned buildings and rescinded its public health emergency declaration.

Mohave County Public Health Director Denise Burley is urging residents to see the virus for the threat it is.

“To give some perspective: Last year, there were 53 deaths from influenza and pneumonia. As of yesterday, we had 278 Mohave County residents who have died from COVID. This is not the flu. It is far from the flu. As a matter of fact, if you do your math, that’s about five times higher than the flu," Burley said.

Burley and Mohave County-area hospital officials took questions during a virtual press conference Dec. 22. Their message was clear: Everyone has to continue to do their part to stop the spread of the virus, likely well into 2021.

Western Arizona Regional Medical Center CEO Mike Stenger repeated the standard mitigation mantra we’ve all become familiar with: Mask up, wash your hands and socially distance. He also noted a newer recommendation.

“We’re adding vaccinate to that list as of this week. We know the vaccine is going to work. We highly recommend that you get the vaccine when you’re able to," Stenger said.

Experts have repeatedly and loudly supported the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines currently being distributed. But the Mohave County officials were asked whether they anticipate residents there will be reluctant to be vaccinated — a question, one speaker half-heartedly joked, that indicated a familiarity with the county’s general take on the pandemic.

Kingman Regional Medical Center CEO Will McConnell said the surge is real, clearly, and the rising community spread has struck his own staff. Just this month, 96 staff members have contracted the virus — 47 this week alone.

That means increased strain on those who are still able to work at a time when reinforcements from outside of the county and the state are hard to come by.

Mohave County Public Health Director Denise Burley said about 16 facilities have been approved from the state Department of Health Services to distribute the vaccine.

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Katie Campbell was a senior producer for KJZZ's The Show from 2019 to 2020.