Arizona health officials are monitoring 250 people for COVID-19 coronavirus as American cases of the virus continue to rise.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey held a news conference to discuss the escalating health crisis Monday, along with Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services. Christ said that officials are monitoring 250 residents who recently returned from travel abroad, but insisted that the state is “well prepared to a possible pandemic.”
“In Arizona we still consider the risk to be low, unless you have a history of travel or contact with an infected person,” said Christ. “However, as we’re finding that there’s community spread in the United States, the chances of coming into contact with that are heightened.”
Arizona began testing using state labs Monday, greatly increasing the state’s capacity to detect the virus. Previous tests were conducted through a cumbersome process that required health officials to send samples to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“The Arizona state public health lab has begun testing for COVID-19 today, which means we will no longer need to send approved samples to the CDC,” Christ said. “Our state public health lab has the capacity to test up to 450 samples per day and we do not anticipate any shortages in test kits for our state public health lab to test for this disease.”
Coronavirus testing kits that were later discovered to be faulty were sent around the country weeks earlier, before officials rushed to develop kits with improved accuracy. The newer kits are only now being distributed across the country, and the number of official coronavirus cases in the U.S. is likely rise with additional testing.
Only 26 people have been tested for the virus in Arizona so far. One person tested positive, with 24 negative results and one test result pending. The positive result came from a patient who became ill after returning from a trip to Wuhan, China in January.
Christ said that the state’s single positive result happening early in the outbreak may have helped officials be more prepared as the crisis worsens.
“I think that it was a blessing in disguise, because of that first case, that is when we activated our health emergency operations center,” said Christ. “We had been doing activities and monitoring what was going on worldwide, but that kind of brought it together and allowed us to accelerate a lot of the difference guidance and information that we’re putting together now.”
Ducey was briefed on the situation by Vice President Mike Pence earlier in the day. The Republican governor echoed the administration in somewhat downplaying of the emergency but insisted that he would take appropriate measures when asked if he could use his legal authority to escalate the state’s emergency response to the virus.
“Dr. Christ, along with the vice president and the secretary of health and human services have said that the risk is low in Arizona and in the United States,” said Ducey. “Of course, I’m aware of the authorities under the governor, and if necessary and needed I will use every tool possible to protect public health in Arizona.”
There were 103 COVID-19 cases in the U.S. as of Monday night, with six deaths.