KINGMAN — Officials from Mohave County’s four hospitals said they are expecting a surge in COVID-19 patients in the coming weeks.
“As prepared as we are, the potential for a surge is still out there,” said Michael Stenger, CEO of Western Arizona Regional Medical Center in Bullhead City, where only two positive tests have been reported.
Hospitals throughout Arizona have been told to expect a surge in coronavirus patients with a peak in positive tests coming around the end of the month, leading to an increase in hospitalizations that will continue into May.
“Are those projections right?” Kingman Regional Medical Center CEO Brian Turney asked rhetorically. “We don’t know.”
The Mohave County Department of Public Health on Tuesday reported the county’s 23rd official coronavirus case. There have been 24 patients diagnosed with the disease in the county, but one was a California resident.
Denise Burley, director of the county health department, said that for statistical purposes, only county residents testing positive are included in the county’s totals.
“Basically, in a nutshell ... if an individual provides a primary address that is in Mohave County ... that case becomes ours in Mohave County,” Burley said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon in Kingman. One patient that had tested positive was from California, Burley said, and was not counted in the totals of either Arizona or Mohave County but in California and the county of residence. “That becomes their case,” she added. “It’s about our cases only.”
“Our cases” include 14 from Lake Havasu City, seven in Kingman and two in Bullhead City. One death, of a patient in Lake Havasu City, has been reported.
In an attempt to identify the source and stop the spread of COVID-19, health department staff investigate all positive cases in the county.
“The county follows up on all cases,” Burley said. “By that, I mean we contact the patient, interview them about who they’ve been in close contact with.”
Staff then contacts those people to provide guidance on COVID-19 symptoms and actions to take.
“We follow up, at this point, with all of the positive cases and ... all of those close contacts,” Burley said.
Mohave County’s first COVID-19 case was confirmed two weeks ago. Since then, the numbers have climbed on nearly a daily basis.
“If we look at our areas as already having community spread, you could basically look everywhere and believe it is around you,” Burley said.
But, participants in the news conference said, there remains a shortage of COVID-19 tests in the county.
“I think at this point, we’re still seeing a shortage of testing supplies,” Burley said. “I know that they are working on increasing that capacity ... at this point, we still continue to see shortages.”
”There has been shortages of reagents and swabs,“ added Turney, whose hopsital has administered 273 tests, more than at the county’s other three hospitals combined.
Turney said the testing process is improving locally.
“We’re getting our results back more rapidly,” he said, noting that two weeks ago, it was five to eight days for results to come back from the state laboratory. “We’re down to about two days.”
He said that will become quicker in the near future.
“We think within a week or maybe a week and a half, we’ll be down to 45 minutes, because we’re bringing that testing in-house,” Turney said.
Burley said more testing likely will result in a higher total of confirmed cases. But, she said, she expected “the positivity rate to remain fairly consistent,” in the 7% to 10% range of all people tested.
Burley said she was “somewhat surprised” by the data that shows more patients in the 20-44 age group than any other group.
“That is something of a message to those younger individuals,” she said.
Valley View CEO Feliciano Jiron said that numbers from New Orleans, where a large outbreak was reported, also pointed to that age group.
“Some of the younger population is continuing to try to go through normal life processes,” he said, noting they were “still venturing out in the community.”
While generally healthy, those people could carry the virus to others, especially more vulnerable patients — such as their parents or grandparents.
“This is serious,” Burley said, noting that there is a “risk of transmission to (the) high-risk population.”
Burley said she endorses the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advice that people cover their faces when out in public places.
“I do suggest, based on CDC’s new recommendations, that people wear a mask of some sort,” she said. “A cloth mask, a bandana, or something to cover up their face to move forward.”
But, she said, N95 and procedural masks should be reserved for medical professionals.
Stenger and Burley shared similar advice for residents of Mohave County.
“Be smart, be vigilant. Don’t panic. We’re prepared for this,” Stenger said.
“We want to remain calm ... but we need to be vigilant,” Burley added.