BISBEE — The U.K. variant of COVID-19, known as B.1.1.7, has shown up in 75 percent of a sampling of 55 tests in Arizona. Three of them are from Cochise County.

Martha Montano, Cochise Health and Social Services epidemiologist, brought Cochise County Board of Supervisors members Ann English, Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby up to date with the news during a work session Friday. The variant is more contagious.

“It’s worrying, but not surprising,” said Montano. “It does show we need to get everyone vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Over the past two weeks, the county’s number of positive cases was 142, bringing the total cases since the outbreak began to 11,863 as of Friday.

“We’re seeing a plateau now,” Montano said.

English asked her to keep them informed if any clusters of cases should be discovered so they can handle any questions constituents may have.

While the U.K. variant is causing some worry, the rate of decline in people seeking vaccinations is of more concern, said Craig Janiszewski, county Public Health Emergency Preparedness coordinator. Only 35,033 people out of 125,922, the population according to the 2019 Census, have been fully vaccinated.

“The Arizona Department of Health Services has plenty of appointments available,” he said. “Fifty percent of appointments at the state points of dispensing have not been filled. The state is considering demobilizing the large events.”

Seventeen pharmacies are offering the vaccine, making it convenient for people all over the county.

Due to vaccine hesitancy, the county COVID–19 team had to rethink its strategy, he continued. The last day the large-scale vaccination site at Buena High School in Sierra Vista will offer vaccinations is May 15.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the Pfizer two-shot vaccine for people as young as 16 and is waiting for approval to give the shots to 12-year-olds and older, he said.

CHSS paused the use of the Janssen vaccine as recommended by the FDA and CDC. It was paused to assess risks of severe blood clots. Six cases in females 18 to 48 had severe blood clotting out of 6.8 million people who received the Janssen vaccine. Friday, the CDC and FDA reviewed the data and recommended the pause be lifted. That will allow the county to revive the push to get homebound people vaccinated.

Crosby said he would prefer not to tell people to be vaccinated as soon as possible as suggested by Montano, as well meaning as it was. “I’d like the board’s position to be ‘everyone who wants to get vaccinated as soon as possible.’ I want to protect my constituents against a trap which could possibly blame unending variant threats on the unvaccinated.”

Judd asked, “Where do we draw the line? How long do we have to stay on this plateau. And, by the way, this plateau is one for every 13,000 people getting sick. That’s pretty low of a percentage and we’re pretty much back to full activity. I’m wondering where do we draw the line and let the public in. I agree with Mr. Crosby. I think people should have a choice about vaccinations. Especially when the results are not as harrowing as they once were and are not likely to become harrowing like that again.”

English commented, “I guess sometime we agree and sometimes we disagree. I’m old enough to remember at one time we were all asked to get the polio vaccine. And we all stood in line to get it, because we wanted to eradicate polio. You see very few people that have polio now. In fact, you’d have to look to some other country to find it.

“It’s our job as a public health department to let people know that this is available to them. It could keep them from having a life-threatening disease. So, we move on and hope we’re giving people the best information we have. And it is always my concern that we give out the best information we can find.”

According to Dr. Erik McLaughlin, Medical Director of CHSS, “It is important to know that this variant strain is much more transmissible than other variants. Adherence to proper mask usage, physical distancing and hand washing are key tools to prevent disease spread. Further, current vaccines do offer coverage of this variant and it is more important than ever to have vaccine–based community protection with this new variant.”

According to a report by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, about 70 percent of the population would need to be immune to achieve herd immunity to coronavirus. If the proportion of vaccinated people in a community is below the herd immunity threshold, a contagious disease could continue to spread.

The supervisors will continue to meet every other week to hear the latest COVID-19 information. The next COVID-19 meeting will be held May 7. To listen in on any meeting of the Board of Supervisors, visit https://destinyhosted.com/agenda_publish.cfm?id=26244.

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