COVID-19 artwork

NAVAJO COUNTY — Two individuals in southern Navajo County were identified this week as having tested positive for COVID-19. One was a patient at Summit Healthcare Regional Medical Center who transitioned to a Phoenix healthcare facility. The other is a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe who is being cared for at Whiteriver Indian Hospital.

Health privacy laws do not allow detailed information to be released about patients who test positive.

“Now is the time for each and every one of us to do our part to slow the spread of the virus. We’re all in this together. We need to remain calm and take the necessary precautions to protect our loved ones,” said Tribal Chairwoman Gwendena Lee-Gatewood in a press release regarding the Whiteriver case.

The case count Thursday in Navajo County was at 129 with about 622 people tested. Apache County had 19 cases with about 448 people tested, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services website. There have been 32 deaths in the state and one in Navajo County outside the Navajo Nation Reservation.

Statewide, Arizona had 1,598 cases. About two weeks ago, on March 14, there were only 12 cases reported across the entire state.

The appearance of the two cases in southern Navajo County came as Gov. Doug Ducey instituted a stay-at-home order that began on Tuesday, and after the state Director of Public Health Dr. Cara Christ, advised all Arizonans last week to consider that the COVID-19 virus is now widespread across the state. Schools across the state were ordered closed for the rest of the school year on Monday.

In an interview with WMITV this week, Assistant Navajo County Manager Bryan Layton said that people are starting to take the virus more seriously. But he said, they need to consider that geography is no substitute for taking precautions to prevent the spread of the disease.

“I think some folk mistakenly believe that if they know where a case is they can avoid that area. That mindset is not helpful, it’s not safe and it’s misguided. We all have to take precautions when we go out … you need to be protecting yourself,” he said. “We are seeing residents take it more seriously and that can be a good thing if it translates into more positive behaviors,” he said.

Contact tracing

Layton said that the county undertakes through contact tracing to phone people who may have been in contact with an infected person.

“When a physician calls us and says that they suspect someone has the virus and they’d like to test, we get involved right then. We don’t wait for a positive test. Our nurses get involved … they talk to that person, they find out where they’ve been, who they’ve been around, who they’ve talked with. If there’s risk of exposure, then they call that person, talk to them see how they’re doing. We give them instructions, and then a lot of times we follow up with them twice a day for about two weeks. So we’re in constant communication with people at risk of exposure or who have been exposed,” Layton explained.

Experts and officials continue to urge similar precautions in order to limit the spread the virus:

• Avoid people who are sick if possible.

• Wash your hand frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

• Maintain social distancing of six feet or more.

• Disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects.

• Cover a cough or sneeze with a tissue or your sleeve or elbow.

In a press release issued Wednesday, after the news of local cases broke, Show Low Mayor Daryl Seymore also urged precautions.

“To help slow the spread this virus, it’s important that all our community members follow Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order to “Stay home, stay healthy, stay connected. We encourage everyone to follow social distancing …” he added.

Reach the editor at

tbalcom@wmicentral.com

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