BULLHEAD CITY — Waheed Zehri, chief of staff at Western Arizona Regional Medical Center, is reminding people that while local emergency rooms may not be filled with COVID-19 patients, it doesn’t mean there won’t be increased need for this type of care. 

And soon.

Experts predict the area will be hit hardest by the outbreak later this month.

“We should be happy we’re not so busy in the hospitals now,” Zehri said. “But it doesn’t mean the epidemic isn’t there.”

The closed schools, limitations on businesses and emphasis on limited social interaction is to ensure that what’s happening in New York, Louisiana, Italy, Spain and other locations hit hard by COVID-19 doesn’t happen here when the number of patients peaks. 

“We are seeing more positive tests in Mohave County this week than in previous weeks,” Zehri said. “The number is going up — and keeps going up.”

The Mohave County Department of Public Health reported Tuesday that 23 people have tested positive for the virus. Fourteen of those people are in Lake Havasu City. Seven Kingman and two Bullhead City people tested also came out positive for the virus.

The fatal COVID-19 case in Mohave County was someone in Lake Havasu City. That victim was at least age 65.

Zehri explained that because the number of positive cases in Mohave County is high among people between the ages of 20 and 44, further measures to slow the spread should address that group of people. Lake Havasu City’s high number of cases could be attributed to spring break activities. 

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s order to remove seating and lock restrooms in public parks was a good idea, according to Zehri. However, he said, the Colorado River and local lakes also should be closed to reduce the number of people coming to the area for recreation and, in turn, would further reduce the likelihood of the virus spreading.

Zehri also said people need to refrain from thinking about flu and COVID-19 as related illnesses. Although some of the symptoms are the same, they are two different diseases.

“We don’t know a lot of things about COVID,” he noted. “But we do know its mortality rate is much higher than the flu.”

Also becoming clear is that COVID-19 can be in a person’s body and not make itself known. A substantial number of people will have few or even no symptoms at all.

“Treat everyone you come across as a potential carrier. Assume they are all capable of giving it to someone else,” Zehri stressed. “My advice is to stay home.” 

He also recognized that people still need to have food and other basic items. Others are in essential lines of work and must go out into the world. 

“If you have to go out, wear a mask and keep a distance of six feet away from others,” Zehri said. “The masks don’t make you immune.” 

Employers should be emphasizing practices that will reduce the spread of the virus. Young, healthy people should stay home so older people and those with conditions that make them more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 are less likely to contract it.

County health employees, fire and law enforcement, area hospitals and members of incident command groups focusing on the outbreak have been working as a team. Mohave Community College students have been assisting care providers with patients. Nonprofits and other volunteers also have worked hard to help the community face this health crisis, he said.

Area care providers have been working with these groups and spending their time preparing for what health professionals consider an inevitable rise in the amount of cases.

Of course, people continue to need health care for myriad other reasons.

Zehri’s practice, Desert Oasis Medical Center, has expanded services and will provide care to people from across the county.  

There are people in the area with various other medical needs who can’t get in to see their doctors for other medical problems right now because a large number of practices have sharply reduced their hours of operation, he said.

“I’m here for the community,” Zehri added.

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