Garrison: Much to address in COVID-19 statistics
SEDONA - On March 20, Yavapai County announced a 72-year-old Sedona resident was the first presumptive positive in Yavapai County for the COVID-19 virus.
Nine days later, with more than a dozen cases in the county, health officials would only announce case counts based on the Verde Valley or Prescott/Quad Cities.
A change to not announcing exact cities or more precise locations is part of fast-evolving set of guidelines involving federal, state and local decisions, said Yavapai County District 3 Supervisor Randy Garrison.
"We've (Yavapai County leaders) been contacted with office personnel from the office of representatives Gosar and O'Halleran and senators McSally and Sinema," Garrison said. "HIPAA (the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) rules the day in the medical world, protecting patient privacy."
Garrison said there isn't case law or precedent for a pandemic on the scale of COVID-19 — certainly not since HIPAA was signed into law.
He said residents should expect rules and guidelines to change if more clear guidance can be obtained from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Federal guidance is the most critical for HIPAA privacy issues, he said. Garrison said when a West Sedona convenience store closed Friday and put up a sign informing the public that an employee had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, he applauded that business's approach.
"That's how you can let the public know that you're acknowledging that the staff there and customers might have been exposed," Garrison said. "But due to privacy, not even I know who that employee is. Protecting patient anonymity is a cornerstone of our health care system."
Garrison said Gov. Doug Ducey's executive "stay at home" order signed Monday appears to give police "wide latitude" in enforcing the concept of people only being out to seek essential services, such as buying groceries.
He also said stores in the Prescott and Prescott Valley area appear to be enforcing social distancing more than Verde Valley stores. Garrison cited Costco, which has customers line up six feet apart and allows them sporadically into the store and not to crowd check stands, as ways this could be done more consistently in the Verde Valley.
Arizona National Guard troops were seen helping stock items at Bashas' grocery in Camp Verde over the weekend.
"I think as we see more metering of customers, along with item limits, you won't see as much of a run on supplies, and people will be able to once again get what they need, when they need it," Garrison said.
Garrison also said federal guidance and communication between Arizona Department of Health Services and county agencies is key to getting the same numbers reported, at the same intervals, about the spread of the virus and its impact.
"The information is changing very rapidly — both the numbers about our health, and the guidance on reporting," he said. Garrison said the public does not have a right to know the exact city location and numbers in each, say, zip code or municipality.
"The governor keeps saying to act like everyone has it," Garrison said. "And that's the safest advice. Whether a town has zero or 50 or 1,000 cases, the recommendations are the same: don't bunch up, wash your hands, and think."
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