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Mohave County health director: Pandemic won’t be ending anytime soon

Mohave County Public Health Director Denise Burley updated the Tri-City Council on the county’s COVID-19 situation. (Miner file photo)

Mohave County Public Health Director Denise Burley updated the Tri-City Council on the county’s COVID-19 situation. (Miner file photo)

KINGMAN – The Tri-City Council met with Denise Burley, Mohave County public health director, to discuss the impact that COVID-19 continues to have on Mohave County. The council, which met Tuesday, July 27, consists of mayors from Kingman, Bullhead City and Lake Havasu City.

According to Burley, the county has the highest case rate per 100,000 in population in Arizona. The county also has the highest positivity rate in the state. From July 4-17 there was a 43% increase compared to the previous two weeks.

“The trends are certainly not in our favor at the moment,” Burley said.

According to public health officials, only 39% of the county is fully vaccinated while 51.9% of all Arizonans are vaccinated.

Burley addressed “breakthrough cases,” which are positive cases among fully vaccinated individuals. Out of the 70,676 fully vaccinated Mohave County residents, 115 have experienced breakthrough cases. “That percentage, as you can see, is incredibly low for those that are vaccinated,” she said.

Burley said that with breakthrough cases it is important to remember that the “primary purpose” of the vaccines is to decrease the severity of the illness, hospitalization and deaths.

“It’s also a prevention tool, but no vaccine is 100% effective; there isn’t a single one out there,” Burley said. “So this one is not different.”

Burley said the majority of positive cases and deaths are among the unvaccinated. According to the report, only two of the county’s first 678 COVID-19 victims were fully vaccinated, which means 99.7% of deaths were unvaccinated individuals.

Burley said it’s important to note that some of the victims did not have the chance to get vaccinated before they died. However, these numbers show how effective the vaccine is against death from COVID-19.

The delta variant is the dominant variant in the county at 73% of total cases. It is around 50% more transmissible than the U.K. variant, which was 50% more transmissible than the original virus, Burley said.

“We’re dealing with a variant that is very effective at moving from one person to another,” she said.

According to the report, the county has collected 566 specimens and 245 variants of concern with the delta variant being the ruling strain. In July, the delta variant has been 90% of samples sequenced compared to 29.9% in June.

Burley said the department understands there is still vaccine hesitancy, which they do not expect to change until the fall. She said she hopes the county and mayors can work together to find ways to get more people vaccinated with the delta variant on the rise.

“We’re also looking at ways to get that messaging out which might be more relatable to the public so that they can understand the importance of this vaccine” at reducing cases as well as deaths, Burley said.

Burley also said the average age of those infected with the virus is falling. Burley said the average age of an individual with COVID is in their upper 30s in July. According to a report from the Mohave County Department of Public Health, the current average age of infection is 39.8 years old. In June the average age was 40.4. Throughout the pandemic, the average age has been around 47 years old.

The average age of deaths is also impacting younger age groups, Burley said. In June, the average age of death was 65 years old compared to 74.5 throughout the pandemic. In July, the average age of death is 62.6.

Ages for COVID-19 positive patients are also decreasing. Throughout the pandemic the average age for hospitalization was 66.2 years old and in June it was 58.2 years old. Throughout the pandemic, hospitalizations under 60 years of age was 27.5% while the percentage for June was 52.2%, according to the report. Burley said the average hospitalization is around two weeks.

Burley also said that they are working with the hospitals to combat staffing issues that three of the four county hospitals are facing.

Burley shared there is ongoing research from the CDC that estimates those who have had COVID-19 are protected from the virus for roughly three months. However, more research needs to be done to precisely determine the length of time the antibodies protect recoveries from catching COVID-19 again.

Burley said based on the current numbers, the pandemic will not be ending anytime soon. She said it’s important to protect vulnerable people inside and outside of an individual's circle.

“The longer it [COVID-19] continues, the more variants we will continue to see,” Burley said.

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