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COVID-19 outbreak at Pima County Health Department

Health Department Director tested positive for coronavirus
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Posted at 7:16 PM, Dec 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-17 13:14:57-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this story erroneously reported 7,000 Pima County employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began. In fact, that is the total number of people employed by Pima County. Only about 300 county employees have tested positive for the virus so far.

On Wednesday leaders at the Pima County Health Department took questions from the media after announcing that department health director Dr. Theresa Cullen tested positive for the coronavirus. Dr. Francisco Garcia tells KGUN 9 that Dr. Cullen is managing cold like symptoms and is doing well and contact tracing is underway.

"She did the right thing when she was sick at work she went home. She got tested and kept the rest of her team safe,” Garcia said.

Officials say the positive COVID case stems from an outbreak involving 11 employees who work at the health department headquarters on Ajo way.

"What this represents is the widespread community transmission that we have that now has come to our department,” Garcia said.

The outbreak comes after a protest involving several dozen people at the health department last week and some of them didn’t wear a mask. Protesters entered the building and had close contact with security and staff. Now the question is how do they plan to stop the spread and similar incidents from happening in the future.

“We’re not saying that was a causal event that brought infection into that building. We have put in signage that you are not allowed into the building unless you have an appointment. We are having security enforce that vigorously,” Garcia said.

According to data from Pima County more than 8,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 7 days. Among the 7,000 county employees, 300 have tested positive since the start of the pandemic. Dr. Garcia says that participating in contact tracing is key. Right now, all employees are working remotely and getting tested. While the entire building goes through a sanitation process.

"We can’t get any usable information unless people answer their phones. We are bending over backwards to make it as easy as possible. We are sending text we are leaving voice mails,” Garcia said.

The health department building is expected to reopen at noon Thursday. All neighboring businesses have been notified of the outbreak.