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COVID-19 'aggregated data' to be released by Cochise County with 10th case; locations not to be included

COCHISE COUNTY — With the county preparing to release “aggregated data” of local coronavirus information with the 10th confirmed COVID-19 case — the ninth confirmed case was announced Monday — some area residents are sure to find interesting facts in the data provided, while others will be left wanting.

Cochise County public information officer Amanda Baillie said Monday the county is prepared to release on its coronavirus-specific web page data that includes “info such as age ranges, gender, hospitalizations, and recoveries etc. (similar to what is already on the ADHS website https://azdhs.gov/preparedness/epidemiology-disease-control/infectious-disease-epidemiology/index.php#novel-coronavirus-home and other county sites such as Maricopa and Pima).”

Despite a fairly loud outcry from some segments of the community for information about specifically where in the county the nine confirmed cases are, county officials say they will continue to withhold that information, citing privacy laws and concern for how the release of that information might cause people to behave.

“Providing a location could lead people to believe they are safer in one area than another – something we have seen play out through hundreds of comments on social media,” Baillie told the Herald/Review via email. “For example, someone commented if they knew cases were in Sierra Vista they would instead start shopping in Benson or Bisbee.

“It would not be helpful for any of our communities, or for the goal to slow community spread, to see an influx of people congregating at their stores because people mistakenly believe they are less likely to contract COVID-19.”

Additionally, Baillie said, “No area of the county is safer than another, especially since we now have community spread, and the advice with regards to prevention remains the same, whether you live next door to a confirmed case or live in another community. There is no benefit in knowing where any cases are.”

Maricopa and Pima counties are both following the same protocol in not releasing specifics about where in the county active cases are recorded, Baillie said.

The county is also concerned about gossip and amateur sleuths, Baillie said, noting that there have been several on social media who claim to know where cases exist and even who those people might be. The county has no interest in perpetuating rumors or identifying actual victims, particularly as medical privacy laws apply.

“Since we live in small communities, and because of comments made on social media from people who think they have more info or think they are in the know, it can be easy for people to piece together information and identify, or think they have identified, a person,” Baillie said.

“We have also seen abusive comments aimed at these individuals and we are not prepared to release any info that may lead to them being identified. We take the privacy of these individuals extremely seriously and this is a policy we will not be changing.”

The county’s web page — https://covid-cochisehealth.hub.arcgis.com/ — is dedicated to local coronavirus issues and contains a number of statistics and other valuable information to locals interested in learning more about the impact of COVID-19. Included among that is information about how many tests have been administered in Cochise County (309), how many positive results (9), and similar statistics for the state, among other information.

Herald/Review Media has submitted an open records request to Cochise County regarding where in the county the active coronavirus cases reside, excluding information about specific addresses or other identifying information.

HAPPY TO BE HOME: Local Salvation Army captain details travel, self-quarantine during pandemic

SIERRA VISTA — When it comes to COVID-19 and the fast-moving global advance of the disease, Salvation Army Captain Carlos Souza says he’s thankful he lives in this country.

Souza, who just stepped out of a two-week self-imposed quarantine after visiting family in Brazil, described people in his home country as “absolutely terrified.”

“I know this virus is a huge concern in this country, as it should be, but we are blessed by the resources we have here,” he said. “We are so much better prepared here than what is happening in other countries.”

After going five years without seeing his mother and other family members, Souza purchased an airline ticket last October to travel to Brazil on March 11, returning on March 22.

“At the time I purchased the ticket, there was no coronavirus pandemic,” Souza said. “Social distancing and quarantines were not things people were talking about.”

But when Souza was preparing to leave for Brazil, coronavirus was headline news.

“I questioned whether going to Brazil in the middle of this epidemic was a good idea,” he said. “I was very torn because I was worried about the virus and leaving my family while this was going on. But I had not seen my family in five years, and the airline ticket was nonrefundable. I had a tough decision to make.”

After agonizing about leaving, Carlos turned the Salvation Army operations over to his wife, Captain Gildete Souza and a team of dedicated volunteers. He flew out of Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix on March 11 as planned, and after a 16-hour layover in New Jersey’s Newark International Airport, was on his way to Brazil.

“For the whole trip, I did my best to keep up social distancing by following the recommendations we have been hearing on the news. I wiped off surfaces with disinfectant wipes and stayed as far away from other people as possible,” Souza said, as he described the layover and flights.

Souza’s family lives in the city of Rio Claro, located in southwestern Brazil in the state of São Paulo.

“The entire time I was there, we were limited as to where we could go because of the epidemic. People were in a terrible panic. Businesses and schools were closing down while I was there and they have fewer resources than we do in the U.S. Getting the help they need is a huge challenge for the people.”

After experiencing the situation in Brazil firsthand, Souza expressed concerns about his mother, sister and niece.

“I am calling them every day,” he said. “I also have aunts and uncles who are of the vulnerabile age, and they are hiding inside their homes as much as possible. There is widespread panic throughout the country.”

Despite Brazil’s dismal outlook, Souza did have one bit of encouraging news.

“I will say this — there is plenty of toilet paper in Brazil,” he said with a laugh. “We did not experience any toilet paper shortages the whole time I was there.”

Meanwhile, Gildete Souza and volunteers handled the COVID-19 situation as it was starting to accelerate in this country.

“Gildete and the volunteers did an awesome job of holding down the fort in my absence,” Carlos Souza said.

“Because of social distancing, they started handing packaged lunches out at the door, instead of holding the community lunches in our dining area,” he added.

Upon his return to Sierra Vista, Souza went into a two-week, self-imposed quarantine, where he lived in the old Salvation Army building, which sits empty and shuttered.

“I chose to quarantine myself so I was sure to be away from everybody, including my wife and children. I did this even though I am feeling totally healthy and have no symptoms of the virus,” Souza said.

Other than missing home life with his family, Souza said it really wasn’t that bad. He passed time by pulling weeds on both Salvation Army properties, while careful to keep his distance from people.

“I lacked nothing while there,” he said. “I was well provided by the community through our wonderful volunteers who brought me the same lunches we were providing people in our community.”

Souza found a slow cooker which he used to heat water for showers, slept on an air mattress and washed his clothes by hand in a big pot filled with dish detergent.

“My advice to everyone is to keep the recommended distance from others and do your part to keep yourself and others safe,” he said. “Wash your hands often, keep surfaces clean with disinfectant wipes and follow the guidelines from the experts. Listen to state and local officials about how to stay safe and healthy.”

“This virus is nothing to take lightly. We all must do our part, working together to protect our communities and our world.”