The Arizona Local Health Officers Association (ALHOA) and hospitals across the state called for public action Monday as Arizona is seeing a record number of flu cases for this point in the flu season.
ALHOA is collaborative of public health officers in all of Arizona's counties. It was joined in this call by hospitals and organizations across the state, including Northern Arizona Healthcare, Dignity Health, Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association (AzHHA) member hospitals.
The announcement stated that emergency departments across the state are seeing longer wait times in response to increased spread of flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID.
Coconino County’s Department of Health and Human Services (CCHHS) reported a medium COVID community level as of Dec. 16, with higher than average rates of influenza and RSV.
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“We are seeing more cases of RSV, influenza and COVID this winter than we have in the last few years, and the numbers are rising,” said Michael White, M.D., chief clinical officer for Valleywise Health. “Our emergency department is reporting seeing 30 to 40% more patients than they typically do during this time of the year, with about half these patients arriving with some type of respiratory concern. We anticipate these numbers will only increase in the coming months.”
Those with mild to moderate cases of respiratory illness are asked to find testing and treatment at other locations when possible. Recommendations include primary care providers, community health centers, telehealth options and urgent care centers.
Individuals should seek emergency care if they have difficulty breathing, an inability taking in liquids and/or confusion or difficulty in waking up.
ALHOA is also recommending steps for individuals and various community groups to help slow the spread of respiratory diseases and reduce wait times during the holiday season.
“As we look toward holiday gatherings, we need to take personal action to prevent additional spread of viral infection and ensure that those with true medical emergencies continue to get timely care,” said Dr. Theresa Cullen, Pima County Health Department director and ALHOA member. “We typically see increased illness after the holidays and we need everyone’s help to minimize spread that leads to additional strain on our healthcare systems.”
Individuals can help by staying up-to-date on influenza and COVID vaccinations, recognizing signs of respiratory illness and staying home when sick or symptomatic. Frequent handwashing (at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap) and mask-wearing can also reduce the spread.
Employers are asked to remind employees about resources to prevent and treat illness-- insurance benefits or remote work options, for example-- and allow employees to take off when sick or caring for someone who is sick.
Schools and childcare providers should remind families to keep kids home when they have fever or other symptoms, issue handwashing reminders and help for younger children and keep tissues (including disposal methods) and hand sanitizer easily accessible.
Faith- and community-based organizations should provide virtual options for meetings, sermons and other services, so those who are ill or who are caring for ill family members can participate without exposing others. They can also prevent spread by setting up ways to help those who need more support, through actions like providing meals or basic medical supplies (items such as thermometers and hand sanitizer).
“You don’t have to look very hard to find a connection in your household or extended family who has dealt with a flu, RSV, or a COVID-19 infection recently,” said Brian Tiffany, chief physician executive for the Dignity Health Southwest Division. “We have the power to limit the spread of further infection to our loved ones by practicing simple and effective infection control recommendations.”
More about public health in Coconino County, including vaccination and testing locations, can be found at coconino.az.gov/2124/Health-and-Human-Services.