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Pima County's health director tests positive for COVID-19

Pima County's health director tests positive for COVID-19

A total of 11 department employees at the headquarters building on East Ajo Way have tested positive for the virus in the past week

Dr. Theresa Cullen Pima’s public- health director

Pima County’s public-health director Dr. Theresa Cullen tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday due to an apparent virus outbreak among Health Department employees.

A total of 11 department employees at the headquarters building on East Ajo Way have tested positive for the virus in the past week. Anyone who had close contact with the positive employees were advised to isolate for 10 days and get tested. All employees of the building are being offered testing and will be moved to alternative work locations or will work from home while the affected floors are sanitized.

Vice President Mike Pence says he looks forward in the days ahead to receiving a vaccine for COVID-19 and will do so without hesitation.

“This just goes to prove that when there is substantial community spread of the virus like we’re experiencing now throughout the county, the virus can get into your homes and places of work any number of ways no matter how vigilant you are being with your precautions,” said Dr. Francisco Garcia, the county’s chief medical officer. “We require mask-wearing at the Health Department and staying home when sick. However, when people can spread the virus before they show symptoms or when completely asymptomatic, outbreaks can happen anywhere.”

Cullen’s sickness is mild so far, Garcia said at a press conference Wednesday: a hoarse voice and coldlike symptoms.

The headquarters building was also the site of a protest last week, where a group of about 40 people gathered to voice their discontent with the county’s COVID-19 requirement. Some members of this group, most of whom were not wearing masks, entered the lobby of the building and had close interaction with security workers and other staffers.

While county contact tracers are trying to determine exactly how the outbreak occurred, Garcia said this interaction with protesters will make the tracing effort difficult. There was also at least one known COVID-19 case within the department a few days before the protest.

“The effects of this outbreak at the Health Department will be a significant challenge, but it is one we are able to handle,” Garcia said. “We have redundant capacity in staffing and facilities, and this will not affect our ability to continue our mission protecting public health or the Health Department’s vital role in the struggle to control and end the spread of COVID-19 in Pima County.”

More than 300 of the county’s 7,000 employees have contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic started. That number has increased significantly in recent weeks, with more than 60 of the cases occurring in the last 14 days.

More than 8,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past seven days in Pima County, and nearly 15,000 have tested positive since Dec. 1.

Contact reporter Jasmine Demers at jdemers@tucson.com

On Twitter: @JasmineADemers


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Jasmine joined the Star in 2019. With a master’s degree in journalism, Jasmine served in a variety of leadership roles, including The Daily Wildcat's editor-in-chief. She was also named Outstanding Newsperson of the Year by the UA School of Journalism.

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