THIS POST IS PART OF A SERIES ON THE NEED TO REBUILD ARIZONA’S PUBLIC HEALTH INFRASTRUCTURE.
To get back to work, Arizona needs to understand the extent of the Coronavirus’ community spread by identifying the infected, especially in those who cannot effectively physically distance themselves. We must do contact tracing of everyone identified as Coronavirus positive, to follow and isolate the entire chain of transmission. And we need to provide support to those who have to isolate themselves to cut the chain of infection.
What happens once someone has tested positive for Coronavirus? In some cases, that person will be admitted to a hospital, where they have the training, facilities and personnel to do infection control and provide for the possibly lifesaving medical needs of the infected. But in other cases, the infected individual is not that sick, or even asymptomatic. They will not be admitted to the hospital as a result of their diagnosis with COVID-19. Where does that person go?
The common advice has been to stay at home. The problem with that advice is that it will all but ensure that anyone else living in that person’s home will also become infected, potentially endangering more lives. For some, staying at home will be a viable option: those who live alone, or with another person who, through contact tracing and testing, has already been identified as also infected. But what if you have uninfected family members at home? Or persons who have co-morbidities that would make their infection extremely hazardous?
That’s where isolation facilities are needed. We have a deep interest as a society to provide a place for people who are infected, but don’t apparently need hospitalization, to stay, recover, and not spread the infection to others. And we need a lot of such facilities.
We have identified over 5,000 cases in Arizona. Most of those people are not in hospitals, they are at home, spreading the disease to their loved ones. Many, many thousands more certainly remain unidentified and will need isolation facilities once tested positive.
Many hotels have opened their doors to medical personnel who have to expose themselves to the virus every day as part of their work, and thus are at higher risk to contract the virus themselves. They need some place to isolate so they don’t infect their families.
As discussed above, many of the infected we identify will be in even more dire need of isolation facilities, yet there are almost none available. There will be hundreds, if not thousands, living with family or in congregate living facilities who will need to be moved out for safety of the remaining population. Many cities and states across the country are stepping up to fill that dire need. Why isn’t Arizona?
Arizona must also establish a network of isolation facilities in which people who do not need hospitalization, but cannot stay at home, can live, be medically supported, be fed, and possibly work, while they recover and become non-infectious.
Hotels and college dormitories are perfect, and they are mostly empty right now.
Arizona should rent hotels, and repurpose those dorms, make any modifications needed, and provide food, medical monitoring, and emergency response to the infected. We need personnel trained in infection control to staff these facilities, too. Ducey can recruit trained personnel from around the state to staff the facilities and train-up the cadre of personnel we need, reducing unemployment.
Everyone wins; hotel owners limit their losses in this crisis with the rental to the State, the infected get the support they need to limit the spread and recover safely, and the people get to staunch the vectors of infection causing community spread of the virus.
Governor Ducey, working with local governments and the Board of Regents, can make this happen. He has the resources and authority he needs to create such a network of isolation facilities and the staff to run them. He needs to act, NOW.
Step up Governor Ducey. Save lives.