County Officials: Public Health data will dictate the pace of COVID-19 recovery, reopening
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County Officials: Public Health data will dictate the pace of COVID-19 recovery, reopening

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

Despite concerns about what was happening in China, February was a typical one in Pima County. Our great month of events — the gem show, the rodeo, the Cologuard Classic — all went off without a hitch. The weather was great, the economy was strong, restaurants were packed, tourists were everywhere, unemployment was near record lows, life was good.

That all changed in March. Like a fast-moving wildfire, SARS-CoV-2 (the name of the virus) blew into Pima County in early March, endangering our lives and engulfing our economy.

Local jurisdictions, and then the state, took extraordinary measures to slow the spread of the virus, closing businesses and schools and asking as many people as possible to stay home.

Our community hasn’t seen restrictions on our lives and livelihoods like this since perhaps World War II, or maybe not since 1918 when a different virus stormed through our country .

We knew what these restrictions would mean — layoffs, financial hardship, anxiety, isolation, anger. But they had to be done. Every major metropolitan area in this country faced the possibility of COVID-19 overwhelming health-care systems and causing death and despair.

As you’ve heard frequently the past six weeks, we had to flatten the curve — reduce the spike of infections to the point that the health-care system could manage the rise in severely ill people .

It has been a difficult and tragic six weeks; thousands have been infected in Pima County, hundreds have been hospitalized, dozens have died. Yet, we are finally seeing signs that our mitigation efforts are working — the curve is starting to flatten and our hospitals are keeping ahead of the virus. We may be through the thick of the firestorm.

That has naturally led to calls to loosen restrictions and let people out of their homes and back to work and school. But the fire is not out. If we act too quickly or carelessly, the blaze will run wild again. We will not be able to resume our lives as we knew them in February as quickly as they were upended in March.

We have worked hard to slow the spread of COVID-19. We must work equally as hard to safely restore our county to normal, or as close to normal as this new virus will allow. This week, the county began creating a Pima County Back to Business Task Force that will determine the criteria for reopening our community .

There are a lot of questions to answer: What are the rules for operating in a time of coronavirus? Who will enforce the rules? What does “reopen with physical distancing” mean? When is the curve flat enough to move to the next phase of restrictions reduction?

The task force will gather members of the business community, local governments, public health experts and others to create the guidelines.

Fighting the virus is causing a lot of pain and there will be a lot of pressure to reopen the closed or restricted businesses quickly. That’s understandable. But we pledge that public health data and health-care infrastructure will drive our decisions.

Pima County is following the phased reopening criteria and guidelines of the state and federal government, with an eye toward a county-specific implementation approach. Some communities may open more quickly than ours, and, conversely, we may outpace others. It’s all a matter of the data and the facts.

It’s going to take all of us working together, cooperatively, respectfully and patiently to get through this time of crisis. And until the restrictions are eased, please stay safe, stay home, and stay healthy.

Ramón Valadez is chair of the Pima County Board of Supervisors and Chuck Huckelberry serves as the Pima County Administrator.

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