PHOENIX — The state’s top health official said Monday there will be more cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in Arizona. But State Health Director Cara Christ said that doesn’t necessarily mean there are actually more people getting sick.
Instead, she said, it reflects that more people are going to get tested. And, by definition, Ms. Christ said there will be more positive test results.
In a press conference to inform Arizonans about the disease and what’s being done here, Ms. Christ also urged Arizonans not to stockpile masks or hand sanitizer. And both Ms. Christ and Gov. Doug Ducey said they are living by that advice and not stocking up on anything.
There is evidence, however, that not everyone is following suit.
Nielsen Investigations reported that sales of aerosol disinfectants were up 19 percent in the week that ended Feb. 22. There also was a 3 percent boost in air cleaners and purifiers.
“Longer term, we expect similar ripple sales in hand and body lotion, simply because an increased focus on hand washing will have a negative effect on skin,’’ the report says.
And CNBC reported that grocery stores, including Costco outlets, have seen a spike in sales of things like hand sanitizer, face masks and cases of bottled water.
Ms. Christ said that’s a bad idea.
“We would encourage the public not to do a run on hand sanitizers or disinfecting wipes,” she said.
“Buy what you need so that the market can support all Arizonans,” Ms. Christ continued. “And then as you need more, it should still be there.”
At this point, Ms. Christ said the state has tested 26 Arizonans for the novel virus.
One tested positive — an Arizona State University student who has since gotten better — and another test is pending. Ms. Christ said the other 24 came up negative.
What is concerning, she said, is that there are now cases showing up in other states of people who have not traveled to China or come into contact with someone who has been overseas. This is referred to as “community spread.”
“So we know the disease is spreading and we can expect additional cases in Arizona,” Ms. Christ said.
Part of that, she explained, is the nature of this virus.
“When a new disease like COVID-19 is detected, only the most severe cases are initially identified,” Ms. Christ said. “As we learn more about the emerging disease, we expand who we are testing based on improved understanding of the symptoms and the disease spread.”
So, she said, more tests equal more cases diagnosed.
“But we want to assure you this is typical in disease surveillance,” Ms. Christ said. “The more we’re looking for cases, the more we’re going to find.”
Ms. Christ also detailed the various efforts people should take to protect themselves and not spread the disease, ticking off the usual suggestions from washing hands regularly to urging employers to come up with plans to continue business, perhaps through telecommuting, if employees get sick.
Potentially more problematic, she said, is what to do about children who, by their nature, tend not to take normal precautions like covering their coughs.
“We would recommend to our educational partners to ensure your kids are washing their hands frequently, using this as an opportunity to teach them how to do that,” Ms. Christ said. That means washing them as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
It also means having hand sanitizer available “and then to make sure that you’re encouraging parents to keep their children home when they’re sick.”
Mr. Ducey also acknowledged a 2002 state law which grants him vast authority to declare an emergency in cases of viral outbreak, including forced inoculation — if there ever is a vaccine developed — and ordering people quarantined.
“And, if necessary and needed I will use every tool possible to protect public health in Arizona,” he said.
But the governor sidestepped a question of whether the United States should close the border with Mexico, saying these are “decisions that are made from Washington, D.C.”
Ms. Christ said her agency is doing what it can with a focus on the source of the disease.
“We’re monitoring travelers here in Arizona so that people who are coming from mainland China are followed up with public health,” she said.
Ms. Christ said her agency’s laboratory now has the kits and the capability to run tests for the virus.
She said they can review 450 specimens a day, with results the same day or the next day.