by Leslie Horton, Director, Yavapai County Community Health Services
From our high desert vantage point, we at Yavapai County Community Health Services watched with interest and concern as the COVID-19 pandemic was rapidly crossing the globe. It looked to be afflicting one nation after another and creating fear and anxiety in our community: Was it the common cold, more like the flu, or was it as deadly as the news was implicating? How were we supposed to prepare for the unknown? Arizona saw its first case of COVID-19 in late January, which is about when Yavapai County began preparing, anticipating and bracing for the unknown.
In the beginning of March, as most were preparing for spring break, we were gearing up to face COVID through prevention, monitoring, testing and mitigation strategies. In mid-March we triggered the Yavapai County Emergency Operations Center to move to Level 1 operations and with it a high-level multi agency coordination consisting of a Type 1 incident management team and numerous community and agency leaders. Both were deployed, along with an emergency declaration from our Board of Supervisors, just in time for our first cases to arrive locally on March 19.Since then, and while most people isolated at home under a protective stay-at-home order by Gov. Doug Ducey, the Emergency Operations Center has been a 24/7 central command and control facility for COVID-19 in the County. Staff and volunteers have worked to monitor the disease case by case, direct people to testing sites, providing factual and timely communication to media, answering public inquiries, addressing new societal issues, and managing resources from the Strategic National Stockpile and vendors such as masks, gloves, gowns, sanitizing products and some testing supplies.
Daily Research Done
Research was conducted daily in order to provide guidance to schools, hospitals, churches, businesses, restaurants, and first responders in order to determine what course of action to take in each arena. Each day has been filled with twists and turns and nearly nonstop virtual meetings with partner agencies, hospital and healthcare providers, first responder agencies,city and county leaders and many more. YCCHS leadership had spent years building relationships with our community leaders and community organizations, which proved invaluable during this unprecedented time. Through teamwork, we not only have been successful at maintaining a low rate of cases and deaths and a slow spread of COVID-19 thus far, but we’ve also been successful at protecting our most elderly and most vulnerable populations.
Knowing that our community members were under intense stressors because of the stay-at-home orders, economic shutdowns and employment cuts, testing limitations, daunting media coverage and fear of the unknown, we knew factual and timely communication was vital. We updated our www.yavapai.us/chs website twice daily and posted new information and videos often to our Facebook page. We also provided daily media updates via local interviews. We set up a local hotline/phone bank in the Emergency Operations Center. “It is nice to hear a human voice on the line,” said a caller to the center’s phone bank. The YCCHS public information officer prepares a daily script, and the phone bank operators use that information to provide accurate and up-to-date information on symptoms, testing, local resources and more. The phone bank has been open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and has answered thousands of calls to date.
The pandemic is not over yet, and knowing that COVID-19 is here to stay for the foreseeable future, our team will continue to devote time, energy and resources to the protection of those who-need it most. As the local public health director, I could not be more proud of the work our exceptional team of essential workers, our strong community leaders and our citizens have done to proactively attack this virus and keep it from taking a stronghold in Yavapai County. Moving forward as our communities begin to reopen with our freedoms restored, I hope we can maintain many of the great habits that have proven helpful in protecting us so far and continue to take special care to protect those who remain at risk.