COCHISE COUNTY — With COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations on the rise in the county, questions arise as to how to celebrate the holidays during the pandemic’s continuing wake.

“We are in a surge,” said Dr. Alicia Thompson, Director of Cochise County Health & Social Services. “So, it’s not like we’ll have another surge, we are still in a surge. Our case numbers continue to go up in Cochise County.”

So, what are the numbers?

As of Nov. 19, 5,070 COVID-19 cases were reported state-wide, 78 deaths, and the rate of cases per 100,000 is 17,153.2 across the state according to the Arizona Department of Health Services’ COVID-19 data dashboard.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Cochise County is currently in high transmission rate with a percent positivity of 13.8% and a case rate of 375.63 per 100,000.

AZDHS reported on Friday that Cochise County has cumulatively 5,214 COVID-19 cases within the past six months; 266 COVID-19 hospitalizations in the county and 57.3% of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

With the holiday season quickly approaching, Thompson said that the best mitigation strategy is to get vaccinated.

“The greatest mitigation measure that all community members can take is to get vaccinated,” said Thompson. “If you’re eligible, get vaccinated. If it’s been six months and you had the Moderna or Pfizer and you qualify, get the booster ...

“We had the pandemic of 1918. Immunization is the number one reason why people don’t die as they used to from Influenza and from the measles, mumps, and rubella, and the other vaccine-preventable diseases.”

How can I celebrate the holidays safely?

The CDC released their updated guidelines on Oct. 15 for celebrating the holidays during the pandemic:

Get vaccinated for COVID-19

Wear a mask while indoors — for all if you’re in a community with substantial-to-high transmission- but especially for those who are not fully vaccinated

Consider attending outdoor events over indoor events

Avoid crowded and poorly ventilated spaces

Don’t host or attend any social gathering if you feel sick or have symptoms

Get tested if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or been exposed to someone who tests positive.

Can our kids get vaccinated in Cochise County?

Thompson said that Cochise County residents can now get their children ages 5-11 vaccinated, following the Food and Drug Administration approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine for children ages 5-11 on Oct. 29 and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) following suit on Nov. 3.

“Both Copper Queen Hospital and Chiricahua Community Health Centers, did receive their first shipment of the pediatric Pfizer doses,” said Thompson on Nov. 9.

She said that getting children vaccinated will make holiday gatherings safer.

“The holidays will be safer for everyone who is fully vaccinated and has gotten their booster shot if appropriate,” said Thompson. “With vaccines now available for the vast majority of our community members our best way to make holiday gatherings safer is for everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated.”

The Chiricahua Community Health Center Inc. Early Childhood Center of Excellence in Douglas provided free pediatric vaccines for to those who pre-registered on Nov. 13. According to a Nov. 17 press release, 194 children were vaccinated on Nov. 13.

Jane Montgomery, Public Relations Specialist for CCHCI, said that pediatric doses were available on Nov. 15 at the CCHCI Sierra Vista location on 155 Calle Portal.

She mentioned that the Benson location at 335 S. Ocotillo Avenue, and Bisbee location at 310 Arizona Street also have the pediatric vaccine available for children.

Not interested in getting vaccinated?

“If you have chosen to not get vaccinated it should also be seen as a choice to not gather with family,” said Thompson in an email. “We are hearing story after story where people who were not vaccinated go to a gathering of friends or family and then come down with COVID-19.

“If you have chosen not to be vaccinated and do choose to go to a gathering, please wear a surgical or KN95 mask to reduce the risk to yourself and others.”

So, how are folks planning to celebrate?

The Herald/Review reached out to folks to get their feedback on how they will be celebrating the holidays this year during the pandemic.

Keasha LeClear-Morse, 58 who works in sales, said that she stayed home for the holidays last year, but noted that her plans are different this time around.

“My daughter and her spouse are both vaccinated,” said LeClear-Morse in a written response. “We are vaccinated as well. We will (be) getting together for the holidays.”

Chris Linzey, 55 and a security supervisor, said that the pandemic didn’t affect his holiday plans last year, and won’t this year either.

“Just myself, my wife and our son,” said Linzey in a written response about how he celebrated last year. “The fact it was just the three of us as most of our family live on the East Coast it was a normal holiday.”

Linzey concluded that his plans for celebrating this year will be the same as last year.

Christian Sawyer, 36 and a researcher for an architectural and engineering firm in Douglas, said that he stayed home for the holidays last year.

“I have a big property,” said Sawyer, who added that he’s planning on inviting family and volunteers to come out to his property celebrate with him. “I have a large greenhouse, and we’ll string up lights out there and we’ll have a large Christmas dinner.”

Stephanie Morris, who’s retired and 72 years old, said that she spent the holidays at her home in New Mexico.

“We are going to Las Vegas for Thanksgiving week and will spend Christmas and New Years at our house in New Mexico,” said Morris in a written response about how she plans to celebrate this year.

What are the next steps?

“We are releasing a campaign called ‘Life’s Better Vaccinated’ that will be airing on some of the local television channels,” said Thompson. “We will continue to hold vaccination clinics.”