Arizona officials say they’re prepared for COVID-19

March 2, 2020 GMT

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona can now run its own tests for the new coronavirus, and the number of infections is likely to rise as more people get tested, the state’s top health official said Monday.

Dr. Cara Christ said Arizona has no new confirmed cases of the disease besides one person who has fully recovered after being isolated for several weeks. But one test was pending, she said.

Twenty-four people were tested and found not to be infected.

The spread of the disease to people who haven’t traveled to areas where the disease is prevalent has led federal health officials to relax the criteria that calls for tests. That means more people will be tested and more cases will be discovered, Christ said.

“We expected to have additional cases in Arizona,” Christ said. “But we want to assure you this is typical in disease surveillance. The more we’re looking for cases, the more we’re going to find. An increasing number of cases does not necessarily mean the disease is more severe.”

Starting Monday, Arizona had been certified to run its own tests for COVID-19 and has the capacity to test up to 450 samples per day without sending specimens to federal labs run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Christ said. Test results are available the same day or the next, depending on what time they arrive at the state lab near the Capitol in Phoenix.

Christ and Gov. Doug Ducey looked to reassure the public that the state is prepared to tackle the spread of the disease, which has killed six people in the United States and thousands around the world. They discouraged people from stockpiling goods.

Christ said Arizona has face masks stored from prior outbreaks to protect health workers. Current health guidance does not advise healthy people to wear masks as a preventative measure, however, she said.

Arizona is working on guidance to provide long-term care facilities so they can prevent the spread of the disease, Christ said. Several of the U.S. deaths were of people living in a care facility outside Seattle.

Asked about President Donald Trump saying over the weekend that he’s considering closing the southern border as a precaution, Ducey said he would defer to the administration’s judgement.

“I’m going to defer to the subject matter experts in a situation like this where you’re talking about a potential pandemic so we can make the proper decisions to protect public health,” he said.