Wastewater shows rising levels of COVID-19 in Del Oro/Foothills area

A map shows the area in which wastewater tests have indicated increasing levels of COVID-19. County officials have asked residents of Del Oro, which is part of the Mesa Del Sol development in the Foothills, to practice safety protocols.

Yuma County on Friday alerted Del Oro residents that increasing levels of COVID-19 had been detected in that area of the Foothills. According to a map sent by the county, the affected area covers the southwestern portion of the Mesa Del Sol subdivision, off Interstate 8, between Fortuna Road and Foothills Boulevard.

The coronavirus was detected in the wastewater that comes from that area. The University of Arizona Wastewater Testing Project discovered the rising levels of the virus during tests performed on Thursday. While levels are increasing at all three testing locations, the Del Oro location has risen above usual levels.

County officials urged residents to practice safety protocols including the wearing of face masks and social distancing. In addition, free COVID-19 testing is available in the Foothills in the parking lot of the St. John Neumann Roman Catholic Church, 11545 E. 40th St., from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

The Wastewater Testing Project is a partnership between Yuma County Public Health Services District, U of A and Arizona Department of Health Services. Building on the success of wastewater testing at U of A dormitories to identify potential outbreaks, the project is now being used to help the county further understand how wastewater testing may be used to inform public health in rural Arizona communities.

The testing program collects wastewater samples twice a week in locations across Yuma County and tests them for COVID-19. The U of A’s Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture analyzes the samples at its Yuma lab and shares the data with public health officials.

Also on Friday, the county issued a statement noting that a press release from Gadsden Elementary School District No. 32 had resulted in “misinformation” about vaccine clinics and the prioritization of doses when it comes to area educators in the county. The GESD press release issued Wednesday states that “Yuma County Health Department informed Gadsden Elementary School District #32 that the February 24, 2021 vaccine distribution has been cancelled. Priority has been given to Yuma Union High School for the second dose.”

To ensure the public and especially teachers have a clear understanding, the county announced the following corrections to the GESD press release:

The Yuma County Health Department did not communicate with Gadsden Elementary School District to discuss or schedule a vaccination clinic.

The Health Department did not schedule a vaccination clinic for Feb. 24 for the Gadsden School District. The Health District has a second dose clinic for individuals 65 and older scheduled for Feb. 24-25, pending vaccine arrival. Both these clinics have been scheduled for several weeks.

The Health Department did not inform Gadsden Elementary School that the Feb. 24 clinic was canceled because a clinic was never scheduled by the Health Department for Gadsden on that date. As mentioned above, the Health District already has a different clinic scheduled for that same day.

Priority was not given to Yuma Union High School District for their second dose. YUHSD staff is tentatively scheduled to receive their second dose vaccines at a prescheduled clinic on Feb. 23, pending vaccine arrival. If none is received due to continuing cold weather events in other parts of the nation, the Health Department may need to cancel. Appointments were blocked out for this date specifically to accommodate second doses clinics Yuma Union High School District.

“For nearly a month, I have been working with State Rep. Tim Dunn, (Health District) Director Diana Gomez and all of the school districts to facilitate vaccines to teachers,” explained Yuma County School Superintendent Tom Tyree. “As we have explained in all of our communications, the distribution of vaccine is very fluid and we always ask everyone for their patience. No vaccine clinic was communicated to GESD 32 for a specific date. I will continue to communicate with them as to the time for teachers there to receive their vaccine. I appreciate everyone’s cooperation as we work through this fluid process.”

The Yuma County Public Health Services District noted that it has worked closely to ensure equitable access to testing and vaccine. “We’ve offered resources, including PPE, testing supplies, rapid tests and provided technical assistance regarding infection control practices, reporting and safety to our clinical partners, community agencies and schools, both public and private,” the county said in the statement.

“YCPHSD understands that the public is very eager to receive vaccine and we are encouraged by the high interest of getting a shot. However, YCPHSD cannot allow misinformation to leave the impression that the YCPHSD has been anything but supportive to a school entity and or would give preferential treatment to one school over another.”

“I was born and raised in Yuma County, primarily South County, and I graduated from Gadsden Elementary School,” Gomez said. “Yuma County is truly my community. I share the goal of making sure that teachers and support staff receive their vaccine as an added strategy in reopening our schools safely. In all communities, but especially in rural communities, schools provide a vital safety net for children.”

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