Council finally receives positive news on COVID-19

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After more than two years of mostly negative reports about the unfolding battle against COVID-19, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors finally got some real good news this week.

While COVID-19 is still the No. 1 concern for the Maricopa County Health Department, improvements in various statistical categories were reported Monday by two members of that department.

Addressing the council at a special meeting, Marcy Flanagan, Director of MCDPH, and Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, Medical Director of the Department for Disease Control, presented several statistics, covering various recent short periods.

Among the many statistics in which the county’s COVID-19 numbers have improved are cases per 100,000 residents. For its 4.42 million residents, Maricopa County had a case rate of 157 per 100,000 residents for the week of Feb. 13-19, dropping 46% to 87 for the week of Feb. 20-26.

Flanagan said in late January that the county’s case rate was significantly higher.

“A little over a month ago we were over 2,000%,” Flanagan said.

Another area where Maricopa County has improved significantly since late January is the total number of hospitalizations, which rose from 2,539 on Feb. 1 to about 800 as of March 3. Another is the number of deaths, which peaked this year at 105 reported on January 26 and has trended downward, resulting in just eight deaths reported on February 26.

According to the CDC’s definition of low, medium, and high levels of community transmission of COVID-19, most ZIP codes in Maricopa County are now at the medium level, Flanagan said. This level calls for patients at high risk of poor serious disease outcomes to discuss with health care providers whether to wear masks and take other precautions.

The CDC also encourages anyone with an average level of transmission to get tested if they have symptoms of COVID-19. The agency also encourages all Americans to stay informed about COVID-19 vaccines.

Flanagan said the CDC and his agency both recommend masks when around other people for two groups of Maricopa County residents: anyone who has been exposed to a COVID-19-positive person in the past 10 last days and anyone suffering from a respiratory illness.

She also reviewed the updated and elaborate procedure recommended by the CDC for contact tracing. She pointed out that home testing kits, which were not available until recently, are understandably excluded from COVID-19 surveys.

Sunenshine said data shows the unvaccinated were three times more likely to test positive for COVID-19.

“One of the many confusing aspects of vaccine information was that after discovering that vaccinees could still catch COVID and pass it on, some people asked, ‘Why should I get vaccinated, then? “Said Sunenshine. “Data from our county shows that people who are vaccinated are much less likely to contract COVID-19, are much less contagious, and are much less likely to suffer serious consequences.”

Sunenshine said there are still many reasons for all county residents to pursue Pfizer or Moderna booster shots, according to CDC guidelines. There are very few scenarios in which someone would be asked to get a Johnson & Johnson booster, she said, because that vaccine was found to be less effective, she said.

“If I had received the J&J vaccine, based on the data, I would have received a booster of one of the two mRNA vaccines (Moderna or Pfizer),” she said.

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