Though there have been only a handful of cases of COVID-19 in Arizona, one hit close to home for the City of Scottsdale.
Four Scottsdale fire fighters and a two-person ambulance crew were isolated after treating a man last week who later tested positive for COVID-19, also called novel coronavirus, according to a City of Scottsdale statement on March 5.
“Once the positive coronavirus test was received, the four-person fire crew and two-person ambulance crew were excluded from work as a precautionary measure and will follow socialdistancingguidelines for 12-14 days per direction from Maricopa County Public Health,” according to the city.
The city said that none of the emergency personnel involved have shown any symptoms and one fire fighter has since been cleared to return to work.
“Because the personnel involved followed standard practices and procedures to limit exposure to contagions, there is no cause for concern among anyone else who they subsequently may have cared for,” according to the city.
Outbreak of the virus began in China and has since spread to countries throughout the world.
There have been 162 confirmed cases and 11 deaths in the U.S. as of March 5, according to a tracking system maintained by Johns Hopkins University.
Of the five cases in Arizona, one patient has since recovered, according to Maricopa County Public Health.
Locally, leaders are also taking precautions in the event the virus spreads here.
The City of Scottsdale defers to direction from Maricopa County Department of Health Services and Centers for Disease Control in these types of situations.
But city spokesperson Kelly Corsette said the Scottsdale does have an emergency response team in place.
“The city’s emergency response plans account for public health emergencies so that we can continue to serve the community during those situations,” Corsette said.
“Our emergency response leadership team is discussing whether any adjustments to our plans, or whether any specific actions, are warranted at this point,” she added.
The Scottsdale Unified School District has also convened an incident response team and set up an informational website for families and staff.
The district’s incident command team, which most recently met on Feb. 28, is in charge of making sure the district has the information, staffing and resources needed to address a health emergency.
“The team is in regular contact with public health agencies to ensure that we are sharing the most accurate and up-to-date information with our stakeholder groups,” according to the district.
The website, susd.org/COVID19, includes details on the district’s response and how individuals can prevent the spread of the virus and protect themselves. It also includes copies of all letters sent home to parents concerning the virus.
SUSD is also working on a plan for how to handle any school or district closures that would be necessary if the virus spreads locally.
The Arizona Health Services and Maricopa County Department of Public Health are not currently recommending school closures.
District spokesperson Amy Bolton said the district, like the city, is taking direction from the county.
“We are having active discussion that could be taken in the event of a school closure,” Bolton said. “Schools also regularly exercise emergency plans to be ready for any scenario impacting the campus.
“So, we are ready with aspects of a plan, but a specific action plan would be determined by the specific circumstances under the direction of MCDPH.”
Bolton said the district is not handling potentially-sick students any differently than normal, meaning students showing symptoms will be sent home.
“Sick children (and employees) are being treated as they always would: anyone exhibiting signs and symptoms of illness is referred to an on-campus nurse for evaluation,” Bolton said.
“If anyone is determined to have a fever above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, they are directed to stay away from campus and/or their SUSD workplace until they have been fever-free for 24 hours without the aid of medications,” she said.
The Arizona Department of Education gave school leaders a list of suggested actions, including reviewing sick policies, routinely disinfecting facilities and making sure hand sanitizer, soap and tissues are widely available at schools.
The ADE also suggested districts take steps to prepare for potential spread of the illness by making sure they have communication plans in place for parents.
It also advised districts to make sure parents have a designated a caregiver for sick children and there are plans for students experiencing food insecurity.
The local business community is also keeping an eye on effects of the virus.
As a city heavily dependent on tourism, Scottsdale could be affected by the a slump in travel.
Stephanie Pressler, director of community affairs for Experience Scottsdale, said it is too soon to tell what effect the virus will have on Scottsdale’s robust hotel industry, because there is a one-month lag in the occupancy reports the organization receives from STR, an analytics firm that tracks hotel performance.
STR is reporting that hotel occupancy was down in several major markets in Europe in late February amid the cancellations or postponements of large events and conferences like the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.
In China, which has the highest number of confirmed cases, hotel occupancy fell 75 percent in two weeks at the end of January.
According to STR, the latest U.S. numbers from Feb. 23 to 29 may be showing the first signs of an impact from the novel coronavirus, though impact on overall occupancy rate so far is minimal.
Overall, occupancy fell 1.7 percent in the U.S. compared to a similar time last year.
Pressler said Experience Scottsdale is staying up to date on news about the virus and is sharing information with businesses in the Scottsdale area from the state, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and U.S. Travel Association.
“We are continuing to monitor this rapidly evolving situation so that we are at the ready with the latest information and recommendations as we receive inquiries from our hospitality partners, meeting clients and leisure visitors,” Pressler said, adding:
“We want to ensure visitors and meetings attendees feel comfortable traveling to Scottsdale.”
Mark Stanton, president and CEO of the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce, said Krystal Robinson, associate vice president of Infection Prevention at HonorHealth, recently spoke to the chamber’s Economic Development Advisory Council.
Stanton said Robinson gave the council an overview of how Honor Health monitors and addresses infectious diseases that could become an epidemic.
The council also heard from George Jackson with Wells Fargo Advisors, who spoke to the impact of the virus on global trade and how the outbreak has impacted financial projections.
Stanton said there is a particular concern for businesses that rely heavily on employee travel.
“So that's a concern that a lot of businesses are looking at and trying to get a handle on what the CDC is recommending and the best practices that they're seeing,” Stanton said.
The Maricopa County Department of Health Services has set up informational website for residents: maricopa.gov/5460/Coronavirus-Disease-2019. It includes information about COVID-19, how to prevent its spread and updates on cases in the county.