BISBEE — At-risk people who test positive for COVID–19 can get monoclonal antibody treatment to prevent severe infection at four hospitals in Cochise County.

During the weekly COVID–19 update with the Board of Supervisors last Friday, Dr. Erik McLaughlin, county medical director, explained how mAb therapy can prevent and reduce the effects of the virus as an outpatient with just one visit to Benson Hospital, Canyon Vista Medical Center, Copper Queen Community Hospital or Northern Cochise Hospital.

However, it is important to note the mAb therapy has to be initiated within 10 days of the onset of symptoms, he said. Symptoms of COVID–19 are runny nose, cough, sore throat, fever, difficulty breathing, fatigue, headaches, muscle aches and loss of taste or smell.

“It’s a short window of time,” he said. “The timeline is of critical importance. If you wait 11 days, it’s too late. So people need to call their medical providers and make an appointment for the therapy.”

McLaughlin told Supervisors Ann English, Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby mAb was “a promising therapy” and it has achieved a 70 percent reduction in hospitalizations and deaths.

“It’s another addition to the arsenal against COVID–19,” he said.

Currently, treatments for the virus are limited, he said. They include steroids, anticoagulants, breathing treatments and Remdisivir, an antiviral medication that provides inhibitory activity against SARS–CoV–1 and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS–CoV).

Antibodies are the good guys of the immune system. They seek out and destroy invading bacteria and viruses, but only if they have already been prepped for the particular invader. COVID–19 is a new virus, so the human body has no defense. By taking the antibodies from B cells, the natural manufacturer of antibodies, from people who have had the virus and recovered, scientists can extract the genetic material through a chemical process and produce more mAbs through a replication process, McLaughlin explained. The mAbs attach to the spikes on the COVID–19 virus, preventing it from entering healthy cells.

The mAbs are given intravenously in 250 milliliters of fluid and that kick-starts the immune response to slow and stop the virus in its tracks.

At risk people are those with a body mass index of 35 or more, have kidney disease, diabetes, immunosuppressive disease or are receiving immunosuppressive treatment such as from an organ transplant. Also at risk are those 65 and older, and people 55 and older with underlying conditions of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

In addition, children age 12 to 17 with a BMI higher than 85, or have sickle cell disease, heart disease or neurodevelopmental disorders, or are using medical devices like a feeding tube or have lung disease are at high risk.

“At this time, we have no way of knowing how long the treatment will last,” added McLaughlin.

Schools and COVID–19

Epidemiologist Ginger Dixon reported on the work being done with schools as they open for in-person classes.

“All schools are open unless there is a significant outbreak and transmission between students and teachers,” she said.

An uptick in positive cases would mean the schools have to go back to hybrid classes.

She said the state would provide weekly updates to the school benchmarks based on community transmission, rather than every two weeks.

Schools providing in–person instruction should prioritize the following key mitigation strategies of universal and correct use of masks, physical distancing of six feet or more to the greatest extent possible, hand washing and respiratory etiquette, cleaning and maintaining health facilities and contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine, she added.

“In–person learning for elementary schools is likely to have less risk of in-school transmission than for middle schools and high schools,” she said. “Families of students who are at increased risk of severe illness or who live with people at high risk should be given the option of virtual instruction regardless of the mode of learning offered. In–person instruction should be prioritized over extracurricular activities including sports and school events, to minimize risk of transmission in schools and protect in–person learning.”

Schools are providing seating charts for the buses and for classrooms making contact tracing simpler, she said.

Vaccine distribution this week

CCHS Director Alicia Thompson said cases continue to decline in the county and for the first week in a while, there were fewer than 100 cases.

She recommended people get tested at one of the many sites in the county if they suffer from any of the symptoms of the virus or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for it.

For the second week in a row, the county received 5,400 doses of the Moderna vaccine and those have been distributed to the medical partners.

Though the county received 1,200 doses of the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine last week, she did not expect any this week and did not know when that vaccine would be made available again.

English thanked the COVID–19 team and said, “It’s going to take the whole community to get rid of COVID.”

Crosby told Thompson, “You’ve really got something to hang your hat on. Even though I hear some complaints, I’m satisfied with the county’s response.”

Judd said, “I didn’t hear any complaints this week. I think we’re meeting the public’s needs.”