- Cases are falling, but spreading primarily through families
- Younger people are spreading it to older family members
- CRIT has been hit hardest
At an average of 100 cases every month for the last 5 months, La Paz County has passed a milestone: the 500th confirmed case of COVID-19. There have been 15 deaths from complications of the virus.
The tribal community of the Colorado River Indian Tribes has been hit the hardest, like other Native American reservations around the country. But no district of the county has been spared.
On March 19th, the County Board of Supervisors joined other governments around the nation and declared an emergency. It took another 6 days to see the first confirmed cases, when the La Paz County Health Department reported its first two. This triggered a state provision applying to La Paz County which shuttered its bars and restaurants for the first time, an unprecedented action which continues to rock the hospitality industry months later.
For over 8 weeks, the Parker area seemed to be spared. Although river-goers were flocking to the Parker Strip to enjoy the water, the virus did not seem to be spreading. Several theories were quietly discussed: perhaps it wasn’t spreading outdoors, perhaps the high UV index was killing it.
Meanwhile, an early outbreak elsewhere in the county was at a large business in the Vicksburg area, a rural agricultural community between Parker and Phoenix. The business was never publicly named, but is widely believed to be a large farming operation. The first case there was identified around April 20th, and by April 29th had the majority of cases in the county, at 14 total.
CRIT took decisive action on April 1st, with a strict stay-at-home order that applied to all residents of the reservation, and to big tribal businesses like BlueWater Resort & Casino and BlueWater Cinemas (which remain closed by the beginning of September). Again, it appeared at first to be staving off outbreaks. But by May 1st, the Tribe was reporting its first confirmed case, one that would eventually lead to hundreds.
The non-tribal areas of the Parker district started to get cases again on May 21st. Better availability of tests, including a testing blitz on June 6th, helped to establish that the area did, in fact, have community spread of the disease, along with the rest of the county.
Speaking to Parker Live, Jenna McDaniel at the La Paz County Health Department says the most common way the virus is being transmitted in La Paz County is through families.
“Based on our contact tracing, the most common activities leading to the most spread in our county are family gatherings and family living environments,” she said. “We have seen a few work related spreads, however not nearly as many as household spreads.”
Each time a new case is confirmed, the Health Department surveys the individual to find out who they have had contact with. The household is then given information on effective disinfecting, social distancing, using separate bathrooms, infection control, and if possible, sleeping separately.
“Outdoor activities are always safer than indoor and greatly encouraged, while following the recommended social distancing guidelines,” McDaniel said.
500 cases is around 2 percent of the population of the county, but according to the Arizona Department of Health Services, La Paz County has a 6.7 percent positive rate, compared to 11 percent in Mohave County and around 16 percent in Yuma County.
“Overall, within these three counties, we are seeing a downward trend,” McDaniel told Parker Live. “With that being said, 97 percent of our county’s population is vulnerable and needs to continue to stay vigilant. It is very important that individuals at a higher risk for severe illness should avoid attending congregate settings. People at higher risk for severe illness include adults 65 or older and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions. This concern greatly applies to those living in the same household with higher risk individuals.”
The downward trend is having an impact on the government restrictions. Statewide, things have been opening up. And for CRIT, some restrictions were lifted several days ago, including allowing seasonal residents to come back to their vacation homes on the reservation.
Digging into the data, the demographics of people becoming infected has remained the same throughout the pandemic. About half of all cases are in the 20 to 44 age group, the largest group by far. The most vulnerable age group, those 65 and older or a chronic medical condition, make up about 25 percent of those infected. But, of the data we have on those who have died from complications of the virus, 100 percent are from this vulnerable group.
La Paz County has currently reported a total of 15 deaths in relation to COVID-19. Of these, 8 are within the Colorado River Indian Tribes service district, and no data is released about their age groups or medical conditions. The other 7, investigated by the Health Department, have all been over the age of 65, all with pre-existing medical conditions (‘comorbidities’) and were hospitalized after getting infected.
Notably, La Paz County has one of the oldest populations in the nation. Over a quarter of its people are senior citizens, which means there’s a higher percentage of vulnerable people than most places in America. The data all seems to add up to a warning: Those who care about the lives of their older family members, especially those in the most active 20-44 year age group, should take precautions to keep them safe.
To that end, McDaniel had some advice:
“The La Paz County Health Department cannot stress this enough: Please do your part and stay home when you do not feel well! If you are experiencing a change in how you feel or think you may have been exposed, get tested and stay home until you receive the test results. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; maintain a 6 foot distance with others; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; continue to wear a mask; and avoid close contact with people who are sick.”
Our timeline of COVID-19 in the Parker area can be found HERE.